AIKEN - How to collect child support from deadbeat parents is a hot topic in the race for Aiken County clerk of court.
Occupation: Aiken County clerk of court
Family: Husband, Luc G. Godard; four children: Carrie, Beth, Bo, John Paul; five grandchildren
Experience: Worked in legal system for more than 30 years. Began working in clerk of court's office in Aiken in 1979. Elected clerk of court in November 1984 and thereafter.
Incumbent Liz Godard, a Democrat, has implemented an innovative program that garnishes past-due child support from the checking and savings accounts of those who owe money, making Aiken County the test county for the effort by the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The pilot program is expected to add to Aiken County's already successful ability to collect and disburse child support, which hit $11.7 million last year.
Republican challenger Ed Wilson, a bail bondsman, Army veteran and former law enforcement officer, wants to do even more. Using "wanted" posters and an Internet site, Mr. Wilson proposes a plan to publicize the photographs of deadbeats.
"I'm going to try and hold deadbeat dads and moms accountable and get the child support to the kids," Mr. Wilson said.
Mrs. Godard, first elected in 1984, boasts 30 years in the legal system and 21 years in the clerk of court's office. She credits her staff with running an efficient office despite funding problems.
With a limited annual budget, Mrs. Godard said, she has stretched the staff and resources to keep the courthouse a smooth-running machine serving both the circuit and the family courts, covering criminal and civil matters and maintaining all court records.
Occupation: President, Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds Inc.; private investigator; notary public; instructor, U.S. Academy of Bail Enforcement
Family: Three children: Christopher, Debra, Stephanie; four grandchildren
Experience: Deputy, Richmond County Sheriff's Department, 1989-90; undercover narcotics agent, Aiken County Sheriff's Office, 1990-93; chief of police, Sardis, Ga., 1993-96; bail bondsman; private investigator since 1997.
Instead of hiring a secretary, Mrs. Godard spreads the staff to other, more pertinent areas while continuing to write or type her own letters. The clerk's job requires a commitment of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said.
The elected position has become more difficult during the years. Changes in worker's compensation cases, bankruptcies and accounting procedures have recently complicated the job, she said.
But 21 years at the courthouse have kept her familiar enough to survive the changes. Mrs. Godard has also survived opposition in three of four election bids, with 1996 as the only year she ran unopposed.
Five employees are in charge of handling approximately 11,000 child support cases. Audits, including one in May, consistently show the staff is in compliance with federal guidelines. The audits check whether clerks are doing timely procedures for wage attachments, tax interceptions and rules to show cause.
Mrs. Godard, who is eligible for retirement in 3´ years, says she has always found time during her 16 years in office to listen. On a recent Wednesday, a woman sat in her office and talked about having little financial support to rear three children. The woman was disabled, and her husband was in jail for molesting one of their daughters.
Unfortunately, there was nothing Mrs. Godard could do.
"That's the hard part, when I can't help. But I've got a good ear," she said. "I've always had an open-door policy, and I will continue that. I may can help and I may cannot, but I'll always do the best I can."
In his campaign advertisements, Mr. Wilson pledges to hold deadbeat parents accountable, foster relationships between local agencies, maintain an open-door policy with residents and build a strong relationship between residents and the clerk of court's office.
Mr. Wilson retired from the Army after 20 years. After leaving the service, he entered law enforcement in 1989, working for Richmond County and Aiken County sheriff's offices.
The North Augusta resident served for three years as police chief in Sardis, Ga., but left in 1996 after he was fired by the town council on allegations that he falsified an application to the police academy by saying a reserve officer was full-time.
Mr. Wilson said he filled out the application with the advice of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. He has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination, a case expected to go to trial this month.
After he left that position, he started Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds Inc. and began teaching classes for bounty hunters and bail bondsman. His role as a bounty hunter has gained him recognition from national publications and earned him an appearance on the Montel Williams Show.
"I think it's definitely time for a change in the management up there. I think we need someone up there who will work or the citizens," he said. "I have talked to a lot of the citizens, and they have expressed concerns about the attitude that is displayed from the clerk of court's office."
One idea: an employee who greets residents as they enter the courthouse, gives them information and directs them to the correct office, he said.
"It's a big courthouse, and a lot of people don't know where to go," he said.
If elected, Mr. Wilson said he intends to sell his bail-bond business or turn it over to his wife to avoid a conflict of interest. But he would continue to teach his bail bondsman and bounty hunter classes.
"But it would be on my time," he said, "not the clerk of court's time."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.