Clerk-elect and retiring clerk trade accusations
by Jon Gillooly
November 13, 2012 12:36 AM | 5156 views | 34 34 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jay Stephenson
Jay Stephenson
slideshow
Rebecca Keaton
Rebecca Keaton
slideshow
MARIETTA — Cobb Superior Court Clerk-elect Rebecca Keaton said she had to conduct a staff meeting Friday evening outside the clerk’s offices because retiring clerk Jay Stephenson is making the transition difficult.

“He’s a crazy nut, isn’t he?” Keaton said Monday of Stephenson.

But Stephenson, who is retiring after 28 years, points out that Keaton hasn’t taken office yet.

“We have custody of the records and evidence and a lot of things, and so the only people who can have access to the working area in the clerk’s office are people who work in the clerk’s office, nobody else,” he said.

Keaton said Stephenson complained to the Cobb Sheriff’s Department after it granted her access to the clerk’s office, a department of 100 employees with a budget of $5.2 million.

“I didn’t know it was a problem until Jay pitched a fit about it and accused me of inappropriate behavior,” she said.

“He told the lieutenant that my job didn’t start until Jan. 2 and that until then it was his office, and he wanted no one to have access to that office,” Keaton said. “When he figured out that we were going to be bringing basically our own team in, and he had a bunch of people that were retiring so I didn’t see why it mattered anyway. He just is sour grapes, what can I say? It’s extremely petty.”

Keaton said it boils down to the fact that Stephenson didn’t want her to succeed him.

“He’s upset because I won the election,” she said.

Yet Stephenson, who dismissed Keaton’s comments as wholly inaccurate, said he tried to make the transition seamless, providing her with account numbers to the various banks in which the office does business and working with Keaton’s deputy clerk-elect, Kimberly Carroll, to order new stationery. He also set up a series of one-on-one meetings between Keaton and his three division managers. Stephenson said for the first meeting, Keaton didn’t bother to show up. For the second meeting, she showed up 45 minutes late, didn’t apologize and refused to answer the division manager’s questions, he said.

The two have different management strategies, he said.

“She sat there and told me ‘this is a political office, and I’ve got a team that helped me during my campaign, and that’s the team I’m going to bring in to help me run the office,’” Stephenson said. “That’s the old-style, Chicago way of running an office. You bring in your buddies. My take on the office has always been that it’s a public office here to serve the public. The only person I brought in with me when I got elected was my chief deputy. We do hiring based not on who’s your friend or who you support in a political race, but on the question of ‘can this individual do the job we need done or not?’”

Stephenson said that on Friday, Keaton told the staff that if they liked him or her campaign rival, John Skelton and his chief deputy clerk, Elva Dornbusch, they could leave now, he said.

“It’s created a terrible situation in the office with the staff because they divided up into groups, and you’ve got the group that’s Rebecca’s friends, and they know they got a job, and they’re all happy. You’ve got another group, and that’s their job working in the clerk’s office, and they’re worried about whether or not they get to keep it, and then you’ve got the third group are the people who know they weren’t going to have a job with Rebecca, and that’s primarily the management staff,” Stephenson said.

For her part, Keaton says that while employees who work in the clerk’s office do so at the clerk’s pleasure — “There are no contracts,” she said — she only intends to hire six to 10 new employees, some of whom will fill positions from people who have retired.

“I told Jay from the beginning that I had no intention of coming in and wiping everybody out,” she said. “I thought we had an understanding of that, but he just gets so wild-haired.

“If you say anything to him, he’s so irrational he just blows up,” she said. “He’s unstable.”

“I said, ‘You know what? You’re hurting no one but your employees because I can’t even tell the folks who are not going to be coming back … to give them enough time to look for other jobs, because I’m afraid if I do … they’re going to sabotage the office. They already are.”

Stephenson wonders how Keaton can run the office without the combined 130 years of experience the management staff has.

“She’s run several different races over the last 10 or a dozen years,” Stephenson said. “She got real good at campaigning, and she won an election. She ran for judge, she ran for state court solicitor, she ran for clerk. She won. I think now it’s dawning on her that she has to figure out how to do the job.”

Keaton said she’s shared her frustration with Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee.

“It’s a mess, trying to work around all of it and talk to employees secretly and have them call me secretly and after hours,” she said.

Lee said he does not intend to step into the fray.

“It’s an elected official and an official-elect with different thoughts about how the transition should occur, and it’s my hope that they will be able to work together and be able to make it as smooth as possible for the employees and citizens of Cobb County,” Lee said.

As clerk, Keaton will receive a base salary of $109,425.
Comments
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actual attorney
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November 19, 2012
dear lord. The position is that of basically a glorified file clerk...give me a break. Congrats, you got elected to be the equivalent of the secretary of the yearbook staff in high school...impressive!!!

Does it really require this much drama?

Audit Your Office, J
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November 14, 2012
Jay, completely audit your office before you leave. It's unimaginable (to everyone but Keaton) what she'll charge you with after you leave. This is important. And thanks for keeping that scoundrel out of your office while you're still our Clerk.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
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November 14, 2012
Rebecca Keaton,

Please don't back down from him. It is so nice to see that JAY IS GETTING WHAT HE HAS COMING TO HIM!! He is a mean old man. He thinks that's his court house not the county court house.

You are a good women for standing your ground with him.

I love it when KARMA COMES AROUND AND SHE IS AT HIS DOOR.
An Atlanta Lawyer
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November 14, 2012
I don't know anything about the Clerk-elect, but and I've only spent time with Mr. Stephenson once, but it was over the course of an hour, when I was getting sworn in as an attorney. Mr. Stephenson had a hectic schedule that day and took time out of it to talk with me, about my job prospects, what type of law I wanted to practice, my family, etc. He also made time for my parents that were there to witness the swearing in and he ushered us back and forth from the Clerk's office to a Judge's chambers and back to his office where he invited us into his office for coffee.

Again, I had never met the man before that and I have not encountered him since, but he seemed nothing but genuine and nice.

Also, for anyone that has practiced outside of Marietta, you know how well run the Clerk's office in Cobb is compared to Fulton, Dekalb or Clayton Counties. They are experts there, and I'd hate to see that quality suffers due to an unfriendly new regime.
ARon1
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November 14, 2012
Rebecca's hot! Much better scenery in that office!
Hot, she's not.
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November 14, 2012
She's too white. She needs a tan.
A People Person
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November 13, 2012
One of the early lessons I was taught by my mom was that if you wanted to be treated with respect, you should treat others with respect.

I do not understand how Ms. Keaton expects to receive any respect - and thus perhaps access to the Clerk's Office and its personnel - if she misses/is very late for meetings that she schedules, then calls names first privately (I believe in the WSB TV report, Mr. Stephenson said she called him a fool in a conversation) and then publicly.

If I were a current employee of the Clerk's Office, I would be very concerned about when that name-calling and finger-pointing would be directed towards me. Position in life should not dictate whether or not individuals are treated with dignity. I teach school, and even though I am my students' superior, they are still deserving of my respect.

By the way, my mom also taught me that every time I point my finger at someone, I have three pointing back at me. Maybe it's time for some introspection on the part of our Clerk-Elect.
Retiree1
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November 14, 2012
Your comments are very well expressed. During the campaign, I told as many people as I could about Ms. Keaton's personality and the likely outcome of her elections. My friends, after reading this article, are letting me know that I was right.

I am surprised to read that the employees of the Clerks office all serve at his/her pleasure. Are they not County employees, with employment rights of due process, such that they can be fired only "for cause"? Do they not at least have a right of an appeal hearing before being terminated?
Ken Tanner
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November 16, 2012
In reply to the comment, "Don't the employees have the same rights as other Cobb county employees and only be terminated for cause" the answer is no. Cobb County employees are covered under civil service, with the exception of employees of elected officials.

However, employees of elected officials CAN ELECT TO BE COVERED - as have employees of the Sheriff's Department, Tax Commissioner's office, and Juvenile Court - but they must petition to join the system. If 20% of the clerk's office petition for such coverage, the Cobb County Civil Service Board will arrange an election. If a majority of the employees vote to be covered, then the clerk's employees will be covered by the county's Civil Service rules. They can only be discharged for cause and then only after a full hearing before the Cobb County Civil Service Board.

If any employee of the clerk's office would like further information, CONFIDENTIALLY call Boardmember Ken Tanner at 404.492.4513.
Reba S,
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November 13, 2012
Don't we have enough huge problems in our country now without this petty stuff? Reminds me of when Pat Head took over the D.A.'s office, he also acted super paranoid and there was a mass exodus. Alot of people were fired for no other reasons than gossip and misinformation that Pat believed. Get with it folks, we have so many crutial problems in this country now, your petty fighting over a Clerks Office is trivial.

Political Observer
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November 13, 2012
I feel sorry for the intelligent voters in Cobb who were outvoted by the shallow voters who bit on Keaton's lies about her Primary Election opposition. Keaton was able to win because she successfully fooled the majority of voters into thinking that her opposition was somehow not a Republican. And she was able to do this simply because he "cross-over" voted in the Democratic Primary. It was part of Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Caos," a strategy to elect the weakest Democratic candidate so that the Republican candidate would have a better chance of winning. Ironically, Rebecca Keaton chose an Obama supporter, Kim Carroll, to serve as her Chief Deputy, so the majority of voters of Cobb County unwittingly elected a liberal Democrat to help run their Clerk's Office. So it's not surprising that any candidate low enough to use such tactics to get elected will not endear herself to decent conservatives, such as now effectively serve the citizens of Cobb in the Clerk's Office.
GOP Observer
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November 14, 2012
Rush's "Operation Chaos" did not start until more than a month AFTER the Georgia Republican Primary. Plus Operation Chaos does not explain why Skelton voted in the 2004 Democratic Presidential Primary. However, Skelton did not choose someone who was openly supporting Obama as his running mate for the GOP Primary like Keaton did. Skelton's votes pushed me to Keaton. Keaton's running mate made sure I voted for Skelton. It's too bad Skelton never had the funds to respond to Keaton, who put over $100,000 of her own money in to win.
Whitlock Wrangler
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November 13, 2012
I'm just a citizen, but I do observe politics. Here's what struck me from this article -- the Clerk sets up meetings and the Clerk-elect either doesn't show or is very late. Looks to me like the Clerk-elect is being presumptuous and needs to gear it back a bit and perhaps be a bit more deferential to the person who holds the office through the end of the year.
Square Peg
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November 13, 2012
The true Rebecca Keaton is beginning to show through. After all her negative campaigning, she expects the Clerk that she repeatedly attacked in her avalanche of mailers this summer to suddenly want to assist her in getting rid of all the experienced employees in the office? That is madness. I, for one, will be praying for the employees in the office to be able to endure what portends to be a difficult time while their jobs become politicized. Loyalty oaths, anyone?
Both embarrassments
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November 13, 2012
Yes, I expect him to work with her. IT'S POLITICS. However, I don't expect him to put up with her trying to order him and his staff around. She's not the Clerk. Once again...both embarrassments.
Both embarrassments
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November 13, 2012
The fact is Jay and his management team needs to be preparing actively for a transition. That should have actually started when he decided he was retiring, even if Skelton was the winner, he would have needed the information. I have been part of transition prep for at least one government office and it is a vital duty for anyone who holds an office of public trust in order to effectively transition in a way that serves that public good.

On the other side, Keaton is NOT the Clerk and has no right to make demands for the office. She has had the benefit of in reality, even if not legally, having been Clerk-Elect since August (legally you are only "elect" after the general election).

The transition location should have been at an off-site location (surely there is some law firm in Marietta who has extra space and would be willing to allow the CLerk-Elect to use it for her transition of such an important office).

She should have transition manuels from Jay and do what she can to encourage cooperation from the managers who are retiring.

Instead of doing that, Keaton has demanded the keys to the office and is already moving her people in and demanding that the old people train the new people on THEIR time. They have an office to run until Dec. 31. If Keaton wants her people trained, she needs to do it after she is sworn in as Clerk and pay these managers to train the new staff.

Keaton has poisoned any good will from Jay's people by attacking him and them throughout her campaign. Going to WSB and the MDJ to complain will do nothing to help her get what she wants.

I started out a Keaton supporter, but, in the end, after watching her campaign with everything from her taking Skelton's internet domains to the debacle surrounding what should have been a simple task of selecting a Deputy Clerk, I voted both times for Skelton.

Let's hope her management skills are better than her character, otherwise it will take a lot of work for the next Clerk to fix the mess Keaton will have made over her 4 years.
Courthouse Outsider
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November 13, 2012
Come on. The election is over. He needs to start packing his bags and begin turning over control. He's going to have to do it at some point. It would be better for the current employees if he made it as smooth as possible without all the conflict. Office employees feed of of conflict, sounds like he does too!
Cobb Taxpayer
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November 13, 2012
Somehow leaving the office vacant till the new clerk is sworn in January 2nd would be a dereliction of duty. There should be a process spelled out from the county as to the protocol expected for the transition regardless of the personalities involved. Leaving them to argue back and forth makes the county look bad.
charles rogers
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November 13, 2012
He is probably tripping over the letter from Neil Warren´s office regarding the identity theft committed against me by Neil Warren´s and Jays offices along with the GBI. I find it amusing that the old codger is tripping over someone because I believe that is partly regarding my tort claim against him (or at least it appears that way to me) and I hope all of the other defendants in my case are tripping just as bad and like him. Now we need a new Sheriff, City Council and board of commissioners to take the power away from the corrupt and finish cleaning this county up. The whole bunch that have ruined Cobb needs to go ahead and step down because a new breed is taking office and hopefully in the next few years a overpopulated jail and court system will be a thing of the past and the warehousing corrupt officials will be the news of the day.
Just Wait
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November 13, 2012
This was an ugly contest from the start and stayed that way until the end. Why would anyone expect the transition to be smooth. I feel for any employee who works for an elected official that does not have some type of protection against firing just because someone new takes office. And if I were being fired, the last thing I would do is train my replacement.
Cobb Taxpayer
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November 13, 2012
So who oversees the clerk's office and makes sure it is being run properly, now and in the future? Why have they not come forward with any protocol and referee this situation which is made difficult by both sides?

Keaton appears to be using this for a political stepping stone, so we won't have to endure her for very long.
Not an Outsider
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November 13, 2012
Anyone who has ever worked for Jay, know what a "NUT" he is. He is absolutely insane. Check the records and see how many of us are "former employees". The Clerk's Office has to hold the record for "ex-employees".
Former Employee
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November 14, 2012
Some people are calling Jay a "nut". He does travel to the beat of a different drummer, BUT he did his job as Clerk of Superior Court very well. He took the Clerk's Office into the 21st century and made accessing records easier for the public. Like him or not, he stood up for what his office needed many times against the BOC, and made the office one of the best Clerk's offices in the state.
Court Reporter
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November 13, 2012
Are the Cobb County Court Reporters still making double pay by selling transcripts to attorneys while being paid by the taxpayers?
Back up, Keaton!
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November 13, 2012
Regardless of whether he is a nut or whatever; Keaton is overstepping her bounds. She has not been sworn in and has not taken office. Stephenson is correct; Keaton should back off and cool her heels.

Mouthy thing, isn't she?
East Cobber
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November 13, 2012
I disagree. Stephenson should be accommodating to the new clerk and make the transition as easy as possible. With only six weeks left in office, Stephenson should be consulting with Keaton on every decision he makes in the office. Unless rather have her fail than provide a seamless transition. This looks to me as a case of sour grapes.
CobbTruthseeker
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November 13, 2012
Wow Jay, throw 28 years of a pretty good job down the drain, leave everyone with a bad taste and look like a spoiled brat, take your retirement and go home - your staff keep running to the papers and local TV stations about this.......looks like they are not on your side
anonymous
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November 13, 2012
--RE: “He’s a crazy nut, isn’t he?” Keaton said Monday of Stephenson.--

Stephenson may be a "nut", but Keaton (cute or not) sure comes across as completely insane.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
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November 14, 2012
You don't know Jay very well. He is a very mean man. If you were to talk to some of the people that works there. They would tell you the same.

Jay has KARMA AT HIS DOOR.

I HOPE IT ALL COMES OUT NOW.
A sad resident
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November 13, 2012
Ms. Keaton used dirty tricks to get elected and she'll be a nasty manager except to those who supported her. Her dirty tricks included buying up every possible combination of webpage names that would obviously be used by her opponent that directed potential voters to her page instead. While some may view that as smart tactics it was a big indication of her personality and win-at-all costs strategy. Those tactics and the name calling she's doing now against the current Clerk are clear evidence that she is a politician and not a public servant. Prepare for a very nasty experience should you need the services of the Clerk and her staff in the future!
Let it be
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November 13, 2012
Keaton had alot of backers during the campaign,

she beat Skelton by a land slide, there was also alot of name calling by Skelton. Jay is the one who is retiring and should let her at least meet the staff, some may not want to stay but alot will want to, it may be a better office to work in. The clerk's office has the worst turn over in employees in the county. This goes way back. Jay if you were beat in the election I could see you being upset, but you are retiring and its about time.
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