Outgoing Chautauqua County Clerk Sandy Sopak is speaking out against the League of Women Voters and Democratic clerk candidate Lori Cornell in what she is referring to as an attempt to tarnish her 20-year reputation.
Cornell and Republican clerk candidate Larry Barmore each had the opportunity to convince voters why they are the best candidate to take over Sopak's job during two debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
The first debate was held Monday in Dunkirk and the second was held Tuesday in Fredonia. Another debate was previously held before these two in Jamestown.
During Tuesday's debate, the topic was brought up of whether Cornell was denied a tour of the clerk's office.
"Mrs. Cornell has never asked for a tour of the county clerk's office because everyone there is treated fairly," Barmore said. "It doesn't matter what party you belong to, it doesn't matter who you are, you are treated with respect and equally in all departments of county government."
"I don't know how (Barmore knows) whether or not I'm asked and I have talked personally with many of the employees in the county clerk's office and have been asked by them, respectfully, and I will respect their wishes, to allow the election process to finish and then they would be happy to work together as a team," Cornell said. "I need to respect that and as the next county clerk, I will take a non-partisan approach to the office. The office should not be a partisan office."
On Wednesday, Sopak sent a letter via e-mail to the OBSERVER that expressed disappointment with the debate moderators in failing to fact-check Cornell's insinuation and with Cornell herself in insinuating Sopak cares about party affiliation in what is supposed to be a non-partisan office.
Here is a portion of the letter:
"On Monday night, the League of Women Voters held a debate in Dunkirk. During the debate, Lori Cornell, candidate for my position, was asked about her proposals to cut staff, improve services and upgrade technology, and if, in making those proposals, she had taken time to go to the county clerk's office to see how the office is currently run. Her response, much to my dismay, was that she wasn't welcome there. The moderator, Marcia Merrins, interjected her own commentary stating apparently politics is involved in the county clerk's office.
"As most people know, I am retiring at the end of the year after 20 years of service to the people of Chautauqua County. I am not a candidate and I was not present at the debate to defend myself or respond to the accusation.
"On Tuesday, the LWV hosted another debate in which the moderator, Mrs. Merrins, posed a question, reiterating that Mrs. Cornell was not welcome in the county clerk's office. Again, I was not there to defend myself or my office, nor did the LWV contact me prior to making this accusation to get my response. I am astounded that the moderator and the LWV, that claims to be non-partisan, simply took Mrs. Cornell's word for it without even attempting verification.
"Since no one is allowed to make a statement during debates, except apparently the moderator, I would like to state my response here.
"I think it's imperative that someone who wants the job takes the time to see just what we do and how we do it. For that reason alone I would not discourage a candidate from coming to see our operation.
"... In the last eight years, Mrs. Cornell has had ample opportunity to come to the county clerk's office, as a legislator or member of the public. It is a public office. Furthermore, at the LWV debate in Jamestown, she explained being half an hour late was due to just moving into her new house and not receiving her mail. Many house closings are held at the clerk's office. She could have held her closing there, giving her prime opportunity to observe that operation, from beginning to end, as a customer. She chose not to.
"In addition, Mrs. Cornell attended an event about a month ago in which I was being honored, even though she was not invited by the group hosting the event. We spoke during the event and she even carried a box out to my car as we chatted. She had the perfect opportunity then to ask about the clerk's office or even ask me if I would mind if she came to see the operation. Again, she chose not to, but did pose for the picture that was submitted to the newspaper.
"I have never, in 20 years, denied anyone access to the county clerk's office or made them feel uncomfortable, regardless of political affiliation. I don't regulate who comes into the office, nor do I instruct my staff on who should or shouldn't come in. This office welcomes everyone and everyone is treated with respect. In fact, Democratic Election Commissioner and party chairman Norm Green has come to our office on many occasions and, by his own admission, was treated with respect and provided with prompt, efficient service."