A few months ago, it looked like the race for St. Tammany clerk of court was going to be a classic incumbent-vs.-insurgent battle, as five-term Clerk Malise Prieto began mobilizing for her campaign and local lawyer Nelson Rivers launched a blistering critique of her tenure.
But then Prieto decided not to run again, saying she no longer had the necessary “fire in the belly” because of what she called “ugly politics,” and two additional candidates — Melissa Henry, a department head in the Clerk’s Office, and Matt Faust, a former banker and Covington councilman — jumped into the race.
When the dust settled on Oct. 24, it was Henry and Faust who had made the Nov. 21 runoff.
Both candidates say they don’t plan to change much in their approach during the final weeks of the campaign.
“I am going to stay the course as far as (arguing that) my qualifications and experience make me the best candidate for the job,” Henry said.
Faust had similar sentiments. “To me, it hasn’t changed,” he said of the race.
Neither seemed eager to pick up Rivers’ mantle of aggressive criticism of Prieto.
“The voters spoke loudly in regards to negative campaigning,” Henry said.
Both candidates have identified technology upgrades as a priority for the new clerk, including electronic filing and reporting, accepting credit cards and upgrading the office’s website.
Henry said some of those improvements already are underway.
“I have made improvements to the technology since I have been a department head, and we are working on implementing e-filing and e-reporting,” she said.
Faust promised to form an information technology committee within his first 30 days in office. Besides staff members, he said, the committee would include representatives from other parish agencies for which the clerk provides record-keeping services.
Where the two candidates differ is in their backgrounds. And both cite their respective experience as a key qualification.
Faust, 60, points to his work as a bank president as proof that he knows how to run a large organization like the 150-employee Clerk’s Office.
“It’s a big administrative job with big employee issues,” he said. “That’s a leadership issue, and that’s what I have done.”
Henry, 50, has been working in the office’s land records department, but she said she also has cross-trained in eight of the 11 other areas of the Clerk’s Office and the experience means she would have “no learning curve” when she takes office.
“This is not something you walk into and pick up the ball and run with it,” Henry said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.