Open forum series brings candidates to the people

Last week the candidates for Forsyth County Clerk of Court participated in a public forum. Denise Hartsfield who is running for Forsyth County District Attorney also participated in the forum.

Open forum series brings candidates to the people
April 20
19:00 2022

Leading up to the primary election, several local organizations are bringing the candidates to the people. 

Over the next three weeks, candidates in some of the most impactful local races will participate in open forums designed to give the public an opportunity to get a feel for the candidates before they cast their ballots on May 17. The series of nonpartisan forums was collectively planned by several partners including the Black Political Awareness League, the Winston-Salem Urban League, the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, the local branch of the NAACP and The Chronicle. 

The first forum was held last Thursday at the Central Library. And candidates for Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court, incumbent Debra Hines (D), Tina Flowers (D), and John Snow (D), took center stage. Although the race for Clerk of Court hasn’t been the most talked about race, tensions were high.

To jump start the conversation, candidates had three minutes to introduce themselves to those in attendance and watching online.

Hines, who was elected in 2020, said despite coming into office during the pandemic, she managed to lead the clerk’s office and meet the needs of the court. She said her experience serving as chief magistrate is what helped her meet the challenges the clerk’s office faced. 

“The clerk’s office managed to meet all the expectations of the attorneys, the Chief Supreme Court Justice of NC, the Chief District Court Justice of Forsyth County, the Superior Court Judge of Forsyth County and the community,” Hines said. 

Tina Flowers let it be known early on that she is the only attorney on the ballot. She said the clerk of court should be well versed in the laws, probates of the state and special proceedings. “As the only attorney on the ballot … I have gone through the entire system from filing to trial to litigation to the entry of the final order,” said Flowers. 

Flowers also mentioned that she has over 20 years of experience in accounting management. 

Snow, who was born and raised in Winston-Salem, said that working for 27 years as a magistrate judge, he has gained the knowledge to lead the clerk’s office. “With the experience level that I possess, I think it transfers really well to the clerk’s office … I think I am the candidate who can most effectively lead the office.”

The first question from voters in attendance during the Q&A portion of the forum, asked the candidates what they would do to make the clerk’s office run smoothly and more efficiently.

Flowers said, first she would make sure the needs of the individuals who work in the clerk’s office are met. She said the key to getting individuals to work more efficiently is making sure they’re happy and feel secure. 

“I need to make sure that there is consistency, there are clear expectations and that they feel secure in their position,” Flowers said. “People who work at the clerk’s office don’t work for a lot of money. They work for job satisfaction and they work because they have a heart for the people. So I think the first thing we need to do to restore efficiency in the clerk’s office is to focus on the clerks and make sure they’re able to work in one position and they’re not constantly transitioned and that they leave with job satisfaction and knowing that they have accomplished something.” 

Hines said she’s already doing the work.”What would I do to make the clerk’s office run more efficiently and smoothly? Well, I’ve already done that,” said Hines after repeating the question. 

She said her mandatory training program is why the clerk’s office performed well on a recent audit. Hines said when she came into office, only certain employees were “targeted” to be fully trained, which is why she started cross training. 

“Cross training is essential in the clerk’s office and since I have been in the clerk’s office, we have cross trained multiple and multiple individuals,” said Hines while looking at Flowers. 

“What do we do to become efficient? We train … we train on procedures. We train on whatever that has happened that week that has caused anyone to be in that courthouse to feel uncomfortable.” 

Snow deferred and did not answer the first question. Candidates were also asked what qualifications they will bring to the office, how would they describe their own people skills and teamwork ethic and several other questions. 

To wrap up the forum, candidates were given two minutes to give closing remarks. Although they won’t appear on the ballot until November, the candidates for Forsyth County District Attorney, incumbent Jim O’Neil (R) and retired Judge Denise Hartsfield (D) were also invited to participate in the forum. Only Hartsfield showed up and she took advantage of it. 

“I’ve been retired since December 1 and I’m back and the reason for that is because I really have an interest, I really have an interest in doing the job,” said Hartsfield during her closing remarks. “Mr. O’Neil is not here tonight but remember Mr. O’Neil ran, not once but twice, for the highest attorney job in the state of North Carolina. and did not win. It’s pretty clear to me that Forsyth County is not his goal, it’s the state of North Carolina. Forsyth County is my goal.”

The next candidate’s forum will be held on Thursday, April 21, at the Forsyth County Central Library, 660 W. 5th Street in Winston-Salem, and will feature the candidates running for seats on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. The forum will be aired live on The Chronicle’s Facebook page. Videos from the past forum will be posted on The Chronicle’s YouTube channel.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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