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Published: Monday, 10/25/2004

Gabriel, Quilter battle for clerk's job

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Theresa Gabriel, former Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court and retired city administrator, is challenging incumbent Bernie Quilter in the election for Lucas County Common Pleas Clerk.

Ms. Gabriel, 67, was an administrator with Toledo before taking over the clerk's office in January, 2003. She lost that post last year in a tight race to Vallie Bowman English.

A former draftsman for the Toledo Edison Co., Mr. Quilter, 45, took office in April, 1999, when he was appointed to replace Harry Barlos, who became a county commissioner. Mr. Quilter ran opposed for the full four-year term in 2000.

The clerk of courts is responsible for receiving, docketing, indexing, certifying, and preserving pleadings, court orders, liens, lawsuits, and other legal documents filed in common pleas, domestic relations, and appellate courts, and collects and disburses money for court costs, fines, fees, and restitutions.

The office also is responsible for issuing title certificates for vehicles and boats and trailers. Mr. Quilter, whose annual salary is $66,300, manages an annual budget of nearly $4 million.

Ms. Gabriel touted her work as clerk and city administrator. She was director of parks, recreation and forestry and commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor under former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. She worked 39 years for the city, retiring in 2002.

"I am qualified. I have proven that during my years as an administrator I can research and develop new programs that constantly better serve the community," she said. "I have fresh ideas that my opponent might not think of."

In the 11 months that she served as clerk of municipal court, Ms. Gabriel said she established a program that forces motorists to pay their traffic fines or have their registrations or driver's licenses blocked when they attempt to renew them. The program, which was allowed under a state law, enabled the clerk's office to collect $600,000 in unpaid fines.

Ms. Gabriel said she would launch a similar program if elected to collect fines, legal fees, and other costs owed to the county, a debt she estimated was $4 million over for the last five years.

But Mr. Quilter, who aggressively began pursuing such fees two years ago, said the program used in municipal court can't be used to collect the overdue funds.

The pilot court collection program begun by Mr. Quilter has collected over $300,000. It uses the county treasurer's office as a collection agency.

Ms. Gabriel said she would strive to increase collections without using the treasurer's office, but she could not provide details on how she would accomplish that. "I will work with the criminal justice system,'' she said.

During the last five years, Mr. Quilter said he instituted changes to improve efficiency and technology that was aimed at providing better service to the public.

Mr. Quilter established an auto and watercraft title office in Oregon in 2000, but did not hire additional staff to do it, but instead shifted employees from offices near downtown, south Toledo, and Sylvania.

A Website that provides up-to-date information on the courts' criminal and civil dockets was launched, averaging a million hits each year. Mr. Quilter was appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to a committee that is overseeing the privacy of records information on court Websites in the state.

Mr. Quilter also said he trimmed staff from 84 in 1998 to 79, without reducing services. "We are doing more work with less people, but handling the work load more efficiently,'' he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: mreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6009.



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