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Franzen, Koetje vye over clerk position

When Sharon Franzen talks about the support that’s been gathering for her grass-roots campaign to get elected as Island County Clerk in November, she seems genuinely surprised and grateful.

And no wonder. Since being fired Aug. 19 from her position as chief deputy clerk by appointed county clerk Jane Koetje, Franzen’s write-in campaign has garnered momentum as numerous individuals — including former Clerk Marilee Black — have professed strong support for her bid against Koetje.

In fact, because Franzen received well over one percent of the write-in vote in the Sept. 17 primary election (it was closer to 15 percent), her name will actually appear on the ballot on Nov. 5.

Of course, Franzen wants to win that election, but she also says the inspiring nature of her campaign has renewed her faith in the political process, especially in the activism of fellow citizens.

“Regardless of how this turns out, I’ve found it to be a very enlightening and enjoyable experience,” she said.

Franzen said Monday she is eager to get beyond the controversy that has surrounded her firing, which some Franzen supporters, including Black, allege was politically timed by Koetje to prevent her from filing to run for the clerk’s position.

“Once the write-in campaign was successful, I thought it was time to move on,” Franzen said. However, she does wish to make clear that it has always been her perception that she and Koetje enjoyed a good working relationship, and that as chief deputy clerk she supported many of the changes Koetje made in office procedures.

“We worked very closely together on a daily basis,” Franzen said. “I was satisfied with our working relationship. I supported the changes in the office. I was pleased to see improvements being made.”

Franzen is cautious when discussing the possible motives for her dismissal by Koetje, who initially re-appointed Franzen as chief deputy clerk after Black retired last year. “I can only assume that she had someone else in mind,” Franzen said.

Franzen said she is basing her current campaign for clerk on her “depth of experience” in that office, which involves 20-plus years of serving as deputy and then chief deputy clerk.

“Not only am I intimately familiar with all the workings of that office, but I’ve kept up with all the statutes that govern the office,” Franzen said, adding that ensuring compliance with state laws for county clerks would be her primary concern should she be elected.

Right up there with legal and technical considerations is the issue of customer service, Franzen said. “We can always work on optimal customer service,” she said. “That’s what the clerk’s office really offers the public.”

Franzen emphasizes the stressful nature of helping people through often difficult legal situations. It’s important, she said, that everyone in the office understands that even subtle changes in demeanor can be misinterpreted by folks. It’s important, no matter how anxiety-inducing the situation, for deputy clerks not to seem “grumpy.”

As clerk, Franzen said she’d try to instill in her co-workers that “how they are perceived is just as important as what they say.”

Franzen admits that it’s not always easy to be smiley when confronted by someone having a really bad day in court, which makes it all the more important to maintain one’s composure.

“It’s a stressful place,” she said of the clerk’s office. “People who come there are under a lot of stress. You have to have patience and sensitivity.”

Franzen said she’s interested in updating technology in the office, at least to the extent allowed under current budget constraints. “The office has always been interested in keeping pace with new technology,” she said.

One of her goals would be to implement scanning, which in the long run could be both a time-saving device and a boon to customer service. Having data and legal papers available on the internet could save some people a trip to the office, she said.

Franzen said as chief deputy clerk she supported many of the changes Koetje instituted in the office, which largely involved improving communication and problem-solving tactics among staff.

On the more technical side, Koetje revamped the phone system and set up computers in courtrooms so deputy clerks could catch up on paperwork during certain cases.

“I do think that Jane has made some much-needed changes to the office, which I supported,” Franzen said. “I would certainly maintain those improvements.”

She added, however, that it’s important for deputy clerks working on computers in the courtroom to remember they aren’t just there to fill space. “It’s a good idea so long as the clerk is paying attention,” she said. “That should be their first priority.”

Franzen added that one of the biggest improvements in the clerk’s office was the staff’s relocation to new quarters in the county’s Law & Justice complex, which she said really improved morale. “The old offices were very cramped and very outdated,” she said, adding that the new office “was just generally set up in a more efficient manner” with much more space.

Franzen said she doesn’t foresee any difficulty in taking over as clerk should she win the election, and that she believes the transition to supervising existing staff would be pretty easy.

“I am familiar with that office,” she said. “I believe we’ll be able to work together. It’s a great staff in there.”

Franzen said after more than two decades serving as a deputy clerk, she still finds the job interesting. She is especially fascinated by the law and how it works. “I enjoyed working in the clerk’s office,” she said. “I found it to be challenging and stimulating.”

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