Incumbent Fairfield County clerk of courts Deborah Smalley is facing a challenge from John A. Bowman in the Republican primary election March 6.

Incumbent Fairfield County clerk of courts Deborah Smalley is facing a challenge from John A. Bowman in the Republican primary election March 6.

No Democrat or third-party candidates filed to run in the primary.

Smalley, 59, has been clerk of courts for the past seven years; she is seeking a third term in office.

Bowman, a 64-year-old retired captain with the Lancaster Fire Department, is currently the zoning administrator for Pleasant Township.

The race has become increasingly contentious, as evidenced by the candidates' appearance at Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce lunch last week. (See related story abov.e.)

Bowman said he decided to seek the office because he believes a change in leadership is needed.

"I became aware of many issues after being approached by citizens, including past employees of the clerk of court's office," he said.

Specifically, Bowman pointed to Ohio Auditor's Office findings in 2011 that he said raised questions about management of the clerk's office and found the office's credit card policy was in violation of the Ohio Revised Code.

According to a June 16, 2011 management letter from Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, Smalley's office authorized $8,301 in credit card transactions in fiscal year 2010 to purchase office-related supplies and equipment, conference registrations and professional membership dues.

Yost's office found those actions to be "in direct violation of the county's policy," and said $551 in transactions weren't supported by original invoices that were either credited back to the county credit card or reimbursed by office personnel.

An official with the Ohio Auditor's Office told ThisWeek it is common for management letters to be issued when an audit reveals practices or conditions that do not rise to the level of being included in the audit report, but are nonetheless considered significant enough to bring to management's attention.

No criminal charges, reprimands or other actions were taken against Smalley's office as a result of the findings, but Yost stated, "No personal expenses should be charged on the (county) credit card and then subsequently reimbursed by department personnel."

In seeking re-election, Smalley said she has more than 20 years experience in upper management in the private business sector and pointed to the endorsement of her candidacy by the Fairfield County Republican Party.

"I am the only Republican-endorsed candidate for the office of Fairfield County Clerk of Courts and I have proven that I am the tough, conservative candidate for these tough times," Smalley said.

Bowman, who is in his 20th year as Pleasant Township zoning administrator, also has spent the past 10 years a housing program coordinator for the Lancaster Community Development Department. He formerly coordinated the Lancaster Fire Department's Training Academy, and is a former park ranger.

"I have been a public servant for over 35 years and have dealt and worked with officials at local, state and national levels," he said. "I realize the value of government cooperation for the citizens' benefit and would strive to maintain a professional and cooperative environment with all county and state offices.

"These working and management positions provided me with the insight and management experience to deal with the many complex issues that are part of the office of the clerk of courts."

Bowman said the Ohio Ethics Commission found that Smalley had solicited campaign contributions from employees.

Smalley said that is untrue. She said both the Ohio Ethics Commission and Fairfield County Prosecutor David Landefeld investigated and dismissed complaints that she had improperly solicited campaign contributions.

She said the incident arose after she terminated an employee for mistreating and making racial comments about a customer at the clerk's Pickerington office.

She said the employee then unsuccessfully sued for wrongful termination.

Smalley said the dismissed employee and two other former workers then filed the complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission claiming she solicited campaign contributions, which was dismissed with prejudice.

"Since the case was now over completely as a gesture of good intention I offered an apology to the complainant to at least begin civility to one another, only to have that thrown back at me," she said.

Bowman also said $1,000 "disappeared" from Smalley's office "that was never explained."

Smalley said the Lancaster Police Department investigated that matter at her request. She pointed to a Jan. 4, 2012 letter from Lancaster police officer Rod Sandy, which stated his investigation led police to believe the money had been stolen. Sandy said police suspected a specific person - not Smalley - was responsible but the Fairfield County Prosecutor's Office determined there was insufficient evidence to file charges.