The Spokane County’s clerk’s office is the keeper of the papers related to the Superior Court system. The clerk is Tim Fitzgerald, a Republican who was appointed in 2014 after a long career in the Marine Corps. He was re-elected later that year.
“What we do is pretty straightforward. We do the day-to-day business of the county. So I run my office as executive level management. There’s no politics in the office. It’s executive level management, executive level leadership. It’s people. It’s processes. It’s budgets. It’s relationships and strategic thinking. That’s what I do. That’s what I bring to the table," Fitzgerald said.
"My last tour after I retired after 30 years in the Marine Corps was one of my four combat tours. I was the chief of staff of all NATO forces in Hellmand Province in Afghanistan. Relationships. Strategic thinking. That’s what I bring to the office. I have the ability to look out into the future, see where the office has to go," he said. "I execute the law. I don’t make the law; that’s what your legislators do. I don’t rule on the law; that’s what your judicial branch does.”
Fitzgerald says he is improving the customer service function of the office.
“When I took over, people said, ‘Tim, money order, cashier’s check, cash. No credit cards?’ I went to work on that and now in the courthouse you can do debit and credit card in the courthouse," Fitzgerald said. "Additionally, I talked to the court about allowing offenders to use debit cards because most of them have debit cards and that’s how people pay stuff, coming in and saying, ‘I have to walk all the way down to the bank, pay extra money to get a cashier’s check, and then pay off my fine. It just seems like a harsh way of doing business.’ I said, you are right.”
Fitzgerald says his office is also modernizing its technology by moving to a new case management system.
“The last time the state did this was back in the early 1980s, when they went to a system called SCOMIS that is what we currently use today. That is the Superior Court Operations Management and Information System. That’s how you document all of your legal files on a statewide system electronically. And now we’re changing that system and it’s one of the largest computer programming changes that Spokane has made in probably 25-some odd years and we do that this November," he said.
"So again, my executive level management, my understanding of people, processes, budgets, my relationships that I have built. This is critical.”
Challenging Tim Fitzgerald for Spokane County clerk is Democrat Michael Kirk. He’s a native of the Low Country of South Carolina and the father of a toddler daughter, whom you can hear playing in the background.
“I grew up in a family with a strong military heritage, a strong faith tradition and I went into ministry toward the end of my time in high school and on through college and thereafter," Kirk said. "My family, we moved out here to Spokane about three years ago to settle down and start our family.”
Kirk says his qualifications to be a county clerk were developed not in the military, as were Tim Fitzgerald’s, but in a religious setting.
“I was trained in people-oriented management, servant leadership, being there for the people that work for you and supportive, because it’s in that sort of environment that people are comfortable to bring forward their mistakes and their questions which prevent those from becoming the kind of catastrophes that can come about when a legal system isn’t able to retrieve the documents and evidence that it needs," Kirk said.
"I was also, during my years in ministry, trained as a canon law case assistant, so I worked directly with people and completed their legal documents, determining which sort of case they had and needed to file and making sure that each detail of it thereof was perfect before it was sent off so that we’re not wasting months of these peoples’ lives. I got to understand just how deeply documents can affect peoples’ lives and we’re not wasting the time of the judges,” he said.
Kirk says, for many, the clerk’s office is a place of trauma and he promises to create a warm and welcoming environment for its customers.
He says he will also be assertive in standing up for the interests of the clerks’ office.
“The clerk’s office is in the middle of a technical renovation and when the commissioners appointed Colonel Fitzgerald four years ago, they told him to cut budget, he just did, even though there was a need for new equipment and there was a need to maintain experience," Kirk said.
"It’s just simply not a time to be cutting budget. Prosecutor Haskell and Sheriff Knezovich both stood up to the commissioners and said no, but Tim didn’t. That’s something, from my experience in ministry, when there are higher principles involved, sometimes you plant your feet, you stare the pastor in the eye and you say you’re wrong. That’s something I’m prepared to do,” he said.
Michael Kirk is a Democrat, challenging Republican County Clerk Tim Fitzgerald. You can hear our full interviews with the candidates at our website.