Candidates speak to Republican Club about election

Conrad, Lareau vie for County Clerk of Courts


While the presidential election has captured the imagination and attention of the vast majority of voters, the voters of St. Johns County will have an important decision to make on Election Day this year. Voters will choose between two candidates to elect the next St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller.

The two candidates, Governor-appointed current Clerk Hunter Conrad and 32-year clerk of courts office veteran George Lareau, spoke on Monday to those gathered for a meeting of the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine. The candidates spoke about their backgrounds, answered moderated questions and fielded questions from club members.

The Joint Select Committee on Judicial Personnel of the Florida Legislature calculates that the Clerk and Comptroller’s Office performs close to one thousand different constitutional and statutory functions. The Clerk’s office acts as the clerk to the Board of County Commissioners, the clerk to the judiciary and is the custodian of records for the clerk system. The clerk also plays a role as an auditor for the county.

“We don’t write the budget,” said Conrad in describing the position. “We make sure that [the commissioners] are spending the money appropriately as laid out by the county. It’s a vital piece of the administration of the county.”

But in terms of day-to-day function, much of what the Clerk does centers on individuals in the county.”

“In addition to making sure land transactions are recorded without errors, making sure court proceedings are accurately reflected in the docket, paying the county’s bills — the Clerk’s duty is to serve the public,” said Lareau.

Conrad, 29, was appointed as St. Johns County Clerk of Courts by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in October 2015. Conrad filled the vacancy generated by the resignation of Cheryl Strickland. Conrad is a St. Augustine attorney, who previously practiced with Canan Law and served as an assistant state attorney in the Seventh Judicial Circuit. He also holds an accounting degree.

“As a citizen of St. Johns County, I find it disappointing that someone in charge of an office that’s running well could be replaced by someone with no experience,” said Lareau, who is also running for the seat. “I trust the voters will remedy this.”

Lareau boasts more than three decades working in the St. Johns County Clerk of Courts office and was appointed as interim Clerk by a Seventh Circuit judge before Conrad was appointed. Lareau served as deputy chief clerk for 19 years, but says that if elected, he would eliminate the position in order to streamline the office and cut costs.

Lareau spoke about the hands-on experience he would bring to the seat, while Conrad relied on his plans for the future to entice voters.

“Government has gotten out of control. It’s too big — it’s only getting bigger,” said Conrad. “At least, at the local level, if we can do things to maintain common sense, fiscally conservative solutions, that’s what I want to do.”

Lareau spoke about the many changes the clerk’s office has implemented during his tenure in order to serve the county with the best resources available.

“I’ve been involved in transitioning the clerk’s office from a system of manually storing records in books and ledgers to one of the best and most progressive Clerk’s Offices in the state of Florida,” Lareau said. “We have clerk’s offices from all over the country come to St. Johns County to see how we do things because we do them so well.”

Lareau framed himself as a successor in a line of exemplary Clerks.

“Try and find a negative article about your St. Johns County Clerk’s office,” he said. “You will not find one because [Carl] ‘Bud’ Merkel did it right, Cheryl Strickland did it right, and under Cheryl’s leadership, I did it right. I’ll continue to do it right.”

The vote for the St. Johns County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller will be on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot, and the winner of the seat will take office in January 2017.