A First Look at the Candidates
Basile, Benton Open Up About Themselves, Co. Clerk Position
OTSEGO COUNTY—On November 7, Jennifer Basile (REP, CON) and MacGuire Benton (DEM, CSE) will face off in the race for Otsego County clerk. This week, both candidates answer a set of 10 questions to get people thinking and help voters make the best choice come Election Day.
1. Why are you running for the position of Otsego County clerk?
BASILE: I have been asked this question many times in the past nine months. To me, running for Otsego County clerk was something I absolutely without a doubt had to do. There has never been any question in my mind as to whether or not to run. I genuinely care about the offices of the clerk, the staff and the community. I wholeheartedly love what I do every single day and take great pride in my job. I have spent over 14 years in this office, and I deeply care for the future of the offices and everyone these offices serve.
BENTON: Growing up in a household where service to others was prioritized and looking out for your community was rewarded, I’ve been drawn to public service my entire life. I made the decision at an early age to dedicate my personal and professional life to public service and volunteerism. I’m running for Otsego County clerk because there is important work that needs to be done to improve the office. My experience in elected office and in private business has prepared me to get it done.
2. What distinguishes you from your opponent?
BASILE: My entire professional career is what distinguishes me from my opponent, having been in the Otsego County Clerk’s Office for over 14 years and having been appointed deputy county clerk for two terms. I know the offices inside and out, the functions within the offices, and how to effectively run them.
BENTON: Relevant private sector business experience is what is needed to improve customer satisfaction and the process of transactions and filing. As the only candidate with private sector experience in the last decade, I am uniquely qualified to deliver on those improvements. I understand the responsibility of the public trust as the only candidate who has been elected to and served in public office.
3. What do you see as the county clerk’s primary role?
BASILE: The primary role of a county clerk is to accurately process and maintain every document within the county, ranging from a DBA registration to mortgages, deeds, lawsuits and litigation, etc. The county clerk serves as Clerk of the Courts and is “keeper of the record.” The county clerk’s other main function is to oversee DMV under the Department of Motor Vehicle rules and regulations.
BENTON: The role of county clerk is an executive leadership position. It requires steady, positive, clear support of the employees in the office so we can deliver courteous, friendly customer service to everyone in the county, whether they frequent the office or utilize it once or twice a year. Ensuring timely filings of vital documents and transactions in order to maintain quality results for people is at the core of the department. As an elected official, it’s critical that the clerk be present and available in the department and in every community across Otsego County.
4. How will you organize and prioritize your work load?
BASILE: Organization and prioritizing are key with any task. Organizing the daily workload begins with lists, daily agendas and effectively delegating the work to the staff member who is most adequately trained for that specific duty. While you can begin to prioritize your day or week with calendars and agendas, these can swiftly change as soon as the doors open. Generally, the priority is that person standing in front of you at the counter, or the person you are assisting in the records room, or the person on the phone. These people are there because they need important and timely information. It is very important to know where to find that information quickly for the constituent. Next is answering staff questions concerning their assignments. Priorities in the office are constantly changing every minute. The clerk must be able to reprioritize immediately. That is why it is so important to have the knowledge and experience to accomplish correct prioritization. Priorities can vary by the time of the week and month where there are specific priorities that you must address. Priorities are handled on a case-by-case basis by the importance and urgency of the matter.
BENTON: In the last nine months, I’ve traveled the county listening to people. I’m going to prioritize what people want. People want a DMV office reopened in Oneonta. Residents in our most rural towns want a clerk who will bring services to them with a mobile DMV program. They’re concerned about accessibility and convenience as taxpayers and want a county clerk who recognizes that. As clerk, I’ll conduct a thorough department-wide review of its procedures and operations to cut costs and speed up the process of transactions and filing. I’ll implement a drop box program for license plate surrendering, an optional online appointment system to put scheduling in residents’ hands and expand the Return the Favor program for Otsego County veterans.
5. What aspect of the county clerk position do you feel you will enjoy most, and why?
BASILE: I thoroughly enjoy every aspect of the position, every day. I enjoy everything from helping that customer get started on their genealogy search to answering questions such as what forms I need for my divorce and what happens next. I will enjoy taking the offices in the next step into the future. I am fortunate to have worked here for 14 years, so I already know the answer to that question.
BENTON: In all of my jobs, whether in the public sector or the private sector, I enjoyed being able to help people, identify problems and work collaboratively as a solutions-oriented leader. In my current role in business, I’m responsible for managing relationships with dozens of distributor representatives and businesses across New York and the country. It’s personally rewarding to work directly with people, hear about what they need and accomplish it. As the county clerk, I will be provided with an ample opportunity to do just that.
6. What will you enjoy least, and why?
BASILE: The aspect I enjoy least is the constant struggle to fill staffing shortages. Trying to fill staff shortages is difficult everywhere, but in both the clerk’s office and DMV it takes a long time to train someone to where they are proficient and comfortable in their job. That is why one can’t just walk into this office and be ready on day one.
BENTON: Fighting Albany’s burdensome bureaucracy and unfunded mandates. Over and over again, in local government and in the business world, it is New York’s red tape created by lifelong bureaucrats slowing things down and creating delays that put our communities at a disadvantage. Too often, those with no experience in customer service, business, or delivering on deadlines are the root cause of delay and inconvenience among taxpayers who need services to be delivered in a timely, efficient, and highly effective manner. My experience will ensure taxpayers receive the services they need and deserve from our county clerk’s office.
7. If you are elected, what are your goals for the office?
BASILE: Mobile DMV to best serve the community; reopening Oneonta DMV is not an option. That office no longer exists. The best and only solution I have is the mobile DMV program. Also: DMV digital billboard; enhancing customer service—in-house practices and office modifications; slated agenda items also include extended DMV hours, extended hours for notary and copy services; improve transaction processing—there are some behind-the-scenes items that I plan, an example is to accept credit/debit cards.
BENTON: Creating a mobile DMV program to close rural service gaps and guide residents through the bureaucratic process is my top priority. Prioritizing raising revenues and reinvesting it in our communities. Ensuring that our local government is doing everything it can to cater to our residents’ needs. My plan for the department includes a strategic drop box system to allow for license plate drops and an optional online appointment system to help residents receive a streamlined and efficient experience at the DMV. Expanding the Return the Favor program for Otsego County veterans, reopening a DMV office in Oneonta to serve our residents in the southern part of Otsego County and conducting a department wide, thorough review of procedures and identifying ways to cut costs and enhance operations.
8. Looking to the future, what do you feel are the most pressing issues for the county clerk?
BASILE: The most pressing issue as the Otsego County clerk is finding a solution to the lack of a DMV in Oneonta and recruiting and retaining competent staff. I have been working with members of the Board of Representatives on solutions to DMV. The next, most pressing issue as County Clerk is keeping up with the legislative changes of New York State. The laws, rules and regulations change often.
BENTON: As I’ve traveled around the county, knocking on doors and talking to our residents, people have advised me that convenience and accessibility to services is their main concern. I’ve met too many people who have to take half days and full days off from work to go conduct basic government business in the clerk’s office and DMV. I understand the issues facing our senior population, our rural communities who are without reliable telecommunications infrastructure, our citizens with mobility issues and more. People want a county clerk who won’t leave anybody behind and that’s the kind of leader I’ll be in the department.
9. What accomplishment by your opponent do you most admire?
BASILE: His political eagerness for any open office, though I do have to say that’s not the clerk’s office. The county clerk is a working job, not just a title, meaning you must know what you are doing.
BENTON: Public service is not easy. It’s often thankless work. It requires a lot of time away from home, missed family dinners, and long days listening and solving problems. I have respect for someone who puts themselves forward to serve.
10. Why do you think you are the best choice for the county clerk position?
BASILE: I am the best candidate for Otsego County clerk because of my entire professional background. I have been a paralegal for 19 years and understand legal documents, or legalese, if you will. I have been the deputy county clerk for almost eight years with over 14 years’ experience in the Otsego County Clerk’s Office. I know the offices like the back of my hand. I don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount of time learning the job. I already know it. I will be able to focus on moving the office into the future for the residents of Otsego County.
BENTON: Experience. My experience working in business and serving as an elected official gives me a truly unique perspective to tackle the challenges of the clerk’s office and provide a top notch customer service experience for all who utilize the office. I will bring to this job a set of concrete ideas and a plan for the office along with a firm commitment to always put people first. I listen, I have vision, and I have energy. I truly care about people and the community we live in. I am not running to collect a title or a pension. I’m running because serving my community is in my blood and I believe that I possess the right combination of public and private sector experience to effectively serve the people of Otsego County.