Who is Richard J. Reinhardt II? Well, he's an accomplished artist, who has created some great pieces of art. He's also a young, Republican lawyer with an impressive resume. Reinhardt is currently the only Republican announced for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court. When a vacancy opened up in the post, Reinhardt applied and was one of 3 finalists interviewed for the position. He was passed over for Democratic candidate Rick Arnold. I reached out to Reinhardt recently and he was willing to answer some of my questions in an email-based interview. His answers are below.
Matthew Newman: What made you decide to run for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court?
Richard J. Reinhardt, II: My decision to run for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court was one that I seriously contemplated following my time serving as the law clerk for the Honorable Robert N. Dugan. Serving as his law clerk from 2004-2006, I had the opportunity to observe, first hand, the clerk’s daily operations. It was quiet apparent to me that the Office was in desperate need for a new direction to improve it’s proficiency in every aspect. In essence, the Office has been operating the same way since former Clerk of Court Suzanne Mensh was elected to the position in 1986. The outdated facilities, equipment, procedures, etc., have been contributing factors to the inadequacy and performance of its staff and to the Bench. The increased demands placed on the Office without any annual improvements has further exacerbated the work environment and its productivity which has ultimately resulted to a non-“user friendly” facility for the general public.
The major turning point that ultimately convinced me to run was when I began researching the State of Maryland audit reports for the Clerk of the Court for Baltimore County Circuit Court, dating from 1985 through 2008. What was so shocking in my research was learning that the Office of the Clerk of the Court has continually been mismanaged for over a quarter of century as a result of failed leadership and neglect. Every two to three years the State’s Office of Legislative Audits produces an audit report specifying deficiencies within the Office of the Clerk of the Court. These audit reports indicate an average of two to three major deficiencies occur. In some reports, those numbers are greater than the aforementioned average and are frequently identified in every report.
These reports reveal an expansive list of issues that include: failure to verify that all recorded collections were deposited, inadequate controls over the Office’s trust fund checking accounts, accounts receivable owed to the Office were delinquent over extended periods of time, unauthorized purchases of equipment, and theft.
It is without issue that the Office of Legislative Audits has consistently evaluated the Office’s performance as having, “significant deficiencies in the design or operation of internal control that could adversely affect the Office’s ability to maintain reliable financial records, operate effectively and efficiently, and/or comply with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.” – July 1, 2005 to January 15, 2008
Recognizing the problems during my time working in the courthouse and learning of all of the other elusive issues, it was time for someone to take command before the Office reaches the point of no return. Furthermore, no one has ever truly exposed to the general public the seriousness of the Office’s current status, nor has anyone taken a forceful tact to make dramatic changes for the better. Other candidates, much older than I, who are currently running for this position, had every opportunity in prior elections to step forward and make a change, but they never did. It is questionable why they believe that they are the most qualified to become the newly elected Clerk of the Court during this election year rather than in years’ past.
MRN: What is your opinion of the outgoing, six term incumbent Suzanne Mensh who is leaving office on May 31?
RJR: I don’t have an opinion on Suzanne Mensh leaving office. After reading several articles in the local paper, in my opinion, it seemed to be an issue of conjecture as to whether she was “forced out”. However, the facts remain that she did formally submit a letter of resignation to the Administrative Judge that declared her intentions to leave office before her term ended in November. At this point, the matter is moot. She has now left the Clerk’s Office and the newly appointed Court Clerk has taken the position for the interim period.
MRN: What is your opinion of the soon to be replacement of Clerk Mensh, and Democratic candidate Rick Arnold?
RJR: My opinion of Mr. Arnold is limited because of my minimal interaction with his office during my time working in the courthouse. He has had a long career in the courthouse. In my opinion, having three decades of experience gave preference to his appointment as the interim Court Clerk. More importantly, his experience would have given him the awareness of the numerous problems that the Office has continually been plagued by; however, he made no attempts to challenge his successor in the past to correct them.
MRN: What do you feel is the most important role of County Clerk?
RJR: I don’t believe that there is one, specific role that is more important than the other as Clerk of the Court. There are twenty-four duties for which the Clerk’s Office is responsible for, these include: issuance of writs, recording of land instruments, issuing various licenses, administering oaths of office, and handling matters related to the operations of the courts as directed by law. Despite the various responsibilities there is a commonality between them all and that is for the Clerk of the Court to ensure that they are never neglected and that they must be carried out with the utmost professionalism, dedication, and proficiency. The moment that any one of these duties are not given full consideration then the Clerk’s Office becomes counter-productive, errors become common, and deficiencies, such as the ones indicated in the State’s audit reports, become on-going realities.
MRN: How do you feel your experiences in government help qualify you for the role as County Clerk?
RJR: Working in both local and state government provides you with opportunities to interact with multiple agencies, departments, elected officials, lobbyists, and the general public. All have different perspectives, opinions, and personalities. In order to find better solutions for Baltimore County and the State of Maryland, it has always been important for me in my positions to be objective and patience with everyone otherwise nothing gets resolved. The Clerk of the Court has a huge undertaking to manage over 100 employees, all with different personalities, work qualities, and concerns for the future of the Office. Having years of vested time working in government has enhanced my skills to work with multiple co-workers and manage employees.
In addition, serving in the Maryland General Assembly will be of great asset to the Clerk’s Office during the General Session. It is during the General Session when state legislatures approve the budget for the next fiscal year. It also provides lawmakers to propose thousands of pieces of legislation, some specifically directed towards the judiciary and the clerk’s office. Serving within the Maryland General Assembly has allowed me to interact with both the Senators and Delegates, along with their staff. Already having established relationships over a three year period, it will enable me to act as a liaison for the Clerk’s Office when needed to advocate for budgetary matters as well as bills that may have serious positive or negative implications to the Office.
MRN: What is your opinion of the circumstances surrounding incumbent Clerk Mensh's retirement?
RJR: In answering this question, I revert back to my answer in the earlier question (question 2). I read the articles in the local paper and in my opinion, it seemed to be an issue of conjecture as to whether she was “forced out”; however, she did formally submit a letter of resignation to the Administrative Judge that declared her intentions to leave office before her term ended in November. At this point, the matter is moot. She has now left the Clerk’s Office and the newly appointed Court Clerk has taken the position for the interim period.
MRN: On your Facebook page, you mention that you want to modernize the office. What specific measures would you implement to help modernize the office of County Clerk?
RJR: We live in age of constant advancements in technology. Those advancements allow information and communication to be readily accessible by a click of our computers or cell phones. Having such luxury places higher demands to have the information available to the general public quicker with added convenience to retrieve it. Unfortunately, the Clerk’s office, technically speaking, has not seen those advancements for over three decades. Failing to recognize the necessity to initiate equipment upgrades and utilizing modern technology has contributed to the counter-productiveness and inefficiencies within the Office.
One of the first measures that I want to implement is the creation of a website for the Clerk of the Court for Baltimore County. There are 24 counties in Maryland. Baltimore County is one of the few remaining counties that does not have a website specifically devoted to the Clerk of the Court. The creation of a Clerk of the Court website, will allow for people to have access to various forms, contact information, “help” center, and will be bi-lingual – immediate accessibility to information, available online. By providing internet capabilities, it will also provide added convenience for the elderly, individuals on limited incomes, and citizens who would have to travel a great distance to Towson.
Another enhancement that I want to bring is a computer/media center station in between the Criminal and Civil Clerk’s assistance windows. A computer station can offer another means for people to access information and find answers to questions that they may have, rather than waiting in line for a clerk to assist them. It’s another added convenience for people as well as minimizing the amount of time a clerk must dedicate to customers, thereby allowing them to concentrate on other immediate tasks.
MRN: On your Facebook page, you mention that you were one of the "...final three individuals who were to be appointed by the Baltimore County Circuit Court bench as the interim Clerk of the Court." Can you tell me more about the interview process for replacement of Clerk Mensh?
RJR: The interview process reminded me of the recognizable situations from movie scenes where there is a room with a long conference table with several important executives on one side of the table, all staring down at the opposite end, looking at this one, lonely person, who is just about to deliver an important presentation. It was much like that.
The three finalists, Rick Arnold, Steve Zarren, and I waited outside the hallways on the third floor of the courthouse until each one of us was notified to be interviewed. All three of us had separate interviews and we were called alphabetically.
When I was called for my interview, I entered the Judge’s conference room where 13 members of the Bench were all sitting at a long conference table and I sitting on the opposite end. At first, I must admit, it was a bit intimidating. The Administrative Judge, Judge Turnbull, initiated the interview by asking two expansive questions. He asked me to give some background about myself and why I was qualified for the position.
I spoke for approximately ten to fifteen minutes presenting my background, work experience, my research on the State audit reports, and my proposed my solutions and ideas for the Office. Afterwards, some of the Judges asked me some follow-up questions on my presentation. The entire length of the interview lasted for approximately twenty minutes.
MRN: What would you say distinguishes you from the other four current candidates for County Clerk?
RJR: I think the most apparent distinction between the other candidates and myself is my age, I am the youngest of the candidates running for the position. Some might criticize my age, but youth carries new perspectives, fresh ideas, and energy. In my opinion, they are all desperately needed after twenty-four consistent years under Suzanne Mensh. Despite being youngest candidate, my maturity and experience recognizes the problems of the Office and how to resolve those problems using innovative solutions while firmly re-instituting the recommendations offered by the State Auditor’s office.
MRN: In closing, what is one thing you want to ensure that potential voters know about your campaign?
RJR: Potential voters should know that my campaign for Clerk of the Court will take a pro-active approach on correcting problems of the past while modernizing the facilities for the future. I will conduct my campaign in the same manner as if I were to be elected. It will be carried out with dedication, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and with heart.
Reinhardt has an impressive resume and some great ideas for the post. He does not currently have an official website, but if you are interested in learning more about his campaign you can check out his Facebook page which has become a hub for his campaign efforts. He may be a young candidate, but he's got an impressive skill set and great ideas for the post. I wish him luck in his campaign and thank him again for his willingness to answer my questions.
Cross-posted to Old Line Elephant