As reported in this week’s Marietta Daily Journal and on local TV news reports, the two have been feuding incessantly in the lead-up period to Keaton’s swearing-in Jan. 2.
She has accused Stephenson of (among other things) complaining to the sheriff’s department after it granted her access to the clerk’s office; says he incorrectly has led employees to believe she plans to “clean house” after taking over; and complains she had to hold recent transition meeting off-site because the incumbent is making the changeover so difficult.
Stephenson, who is retiring after 28 years on the job, responds that only employees are allowed into the working area of the office where records and evidence are kept, and has accused her of (among other things) failing to show up and showing up late for a pair of transition-related meetings; and of lacking the knowledge and expertise to run the office.
She has described him as “a crazy nut,” being “wild-haired,” “irrational” and “unstable.” His accusations are “sour grapes,” Keaton said.
Stephenson has described Keaton’s approach as “Chicago-style politics.”
The feuding is a continuation of this summer’s political race for clerk, which saw Keaton oust Stephenson protégé John Skelton, a Marietta lawyer, in the summer Republican Primary. The race for clerk proved one of the most unexpectedly contentious on the primary ballot, with levels of invective and allegation usually seen only in races for higher offices, not down-ballot ones like clerk. There was no Democratic candidate this fall for clerk, although during the primary Keaton forces questioned the depth of Skelton’s allegiance to the GOP and Skelton surrogates accused Keaton of choosing an Obama supporter, Kim Carroll, as her chief deputy and running mate. And Keaton caused hard feelings early on by buying up webpages named with multiple variations of “Skelton for Clerk,” which then would direct those who clicked on them to her own site.
It might have been unrealistic to expect a seamless transition after such a bare-knuckle primary, but as we said above, “enough is enough.”
The public rancor in connection with the transition is an embarrassment to Cobb, which has long prided itself in having one of Georgia’s most professionally-run court systems — if not the best-run court system.
Frankly, most Cobb residents, if they think of the clerk’s office at all, are interested primarily in knowing that the court’s records are in order.
It’s time for Stephenson and Keaton to tone down the rhetoric, hit the “restart” button and ensure a professional transition from here on out.