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Vigliotti: Love and justice at the clerk’s office in the time of coronavirus | COMMENTARY

In times of trouble and tragedy, Americans seek normalcy. Residents of Carroll County are no different, and the path back to normalcy is, quite interestingly, found in part through the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court under Heather DeWees.

In the United States, we Americans rightly cherish values such as justice, and aspire to the greatest exercise of human free will possible, which is the act of love. Even in times of pandemic those two hallmark features of life — love and justice — are essential to normalcy. Love and justice are inextricably a part of the American identity, and their daily exercise are legally vested in public servants like DeWees.

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Most people equate DeWees, her clerks, administrators, and the office with the criminal justice system, and that’s understandable because so much of what is done has to do with the law. Although the office itself has no direct involvement in reaching legal decisions, it facilitates legal processes through record keeping — ranging not only from court proceedings and land deeds, but to issuing business and marriage licenses, as well.

Even under normal circumstances, these sorts of services matter. Properties are sold and transferred all the time. Court cases are a routine occurrence. Innovators and entrepreneurs regularly try their hand at financial success through new businesses. And it goes on.

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And before the pandemic, DeWees was already preparing the clerk’s office for the future. Since taking over as clerk, DeWees has invested herself in meeting and exceeding campaign promises to that end. “I want to make sure customers have what they need,” she explained to me. “Even during a pandemic, I want to do a good job for Carroll. This is my intrinsic motivation to be the best clerk of court I can be for the county.”

The customer-focused changes she implemented have been plentiful. A huge step forward was the new security system that was implemented throughout the entire circuit courthouse to keep both the public and staff safer. Better signage throughout the building, as well as improved informational literature and easy-to-access links on the office’s website, are further beneficial examples of DeWees’ efforts for the public.

Even with the onset of the pandemic, DeWees and the 32 members of her office did not relent. “Justice is essential to democracy,” she explained, and “justice cannot wait.” Due process, emergency protective orders, and criminal and civil filings were everyday elements of justice that needed to be continued. “I’m always planning, and I adjust,” she noted. “And I commend my staff for their dedication to serving the people of Carroll County during this uncertainty.”

Those pandemic adjustments included teleworking, three rotating teams of office members, and the installation of drop boxes so people could conveniently and safely file physical documents without having to enter, or wait inside the building.

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In the initial stages of the pandemic, she acquired personal protective equipment for her staff as a precaution, and then, her staff continued to serve customers through appointments to ensure their safety and the safety of the staff. In fact, DeWees was the only clerk in the state who had all of her staff able to telework. This helped enable them to collect and process more than $4.4 million in the selling and buying of houses and properties in Carroll.

DeWees attributes her experience as an athlete, teacher, and member of a law enforcement family to her success in using resources to flexibly respond to the pandemic. For example, DeWees credits Chief Deputy Missi Green for learning about contactless temperature readers — and through working with the county commissioners, DeWees helped the Carroll County Circuit Court become the first in the state to have those readers.

And if justice could not wait, neither could love. Performing civil marriage ceremonies at the clerk’s office has brought a special joy to DeWees, who oversaw an updating of the room reserved for those ceremonies before the pandemic. Getting married through the clerk’s office can be undertaken for any reason, from wanting to save money to wanting a simple ceremony performed to those who are having destination weddings.

DeWees wouldn’t let the pandemic stop marriages, either, even performing them herself outdoors early on for emergency situations, such as ill-health, pre-existing conditions, being a military member, and others. “It was some sense of normalcy and happiness that I could provide during a very stressful time,” DeWees explained. Indeed, DeWees’ office married couples outdoors when many clerk’s offices were not providing the service at all — and as of March 15, full wedding services will again be offered indoors.

For DeWees and her staff, it’s always been about service to Carroll’s citizens. Through the pandemic, they have safely, effectively and successfully reinvented how they’ve done business, all to help bring about some normalcy for the county. “The word ‘serve’ is in ‘service’ for a reason,” she noted, “and my job is to ensure that the citizens of Carroll County get the best possible service they can.”

Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.

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