Clerk's Office Candidate Says Campaign is Not a 'Vendetta'
Roberta Cutting says she wants to cut spending and give half the clerk's $140,000 salary 'back to the people.'
Roberta Cutting was burned by the Pasco County Clerk's Office in 2011, she says.
So when she discovered last October that no one was running against Republican Paula O'Neil in the 2012 election, Cutting, 53, decided she would be the one to challenge her.
O'Neil was elected in 2008, after serving as second-in-command since 2002.
"How else do you hold a pubic official accountable with no one running against her," Cutting said.
Cutting's beef with O' Neil started when she was interning at the clerk's office in 2011. Cutting said she was required to complete a 90-hour internship to fulfill requirements for a paralegal degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College. After putting in about 16 hours the first week in various departments, Cutting was told the clerk's office was cutting the volunteer/internship program, and she was being let go, she said.
That, she found out later, was not true, she said.
"They lied to me about why they were letting me go," Cutting said.
Cutting also said the clerk's office has misrepresented her status as a volunteer rather than an intern at the time. O' Neil denies that.
"She was interviewed for an internship, however, she did not complete her paperwork, so our records indicate she served as a volunteer," O' Neil said.
Cutting said the clerk's office eventually told her that she was let go for representing herself as an attorney when she came in to make a public records request a year before her internship began. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Cutting "caused problems" in the Clerk's records department when she tried to view a confidential sexual assault case file in 2010.
Cutting told Patch she went into the clerk's office that day to pull up a public record on her daughter-in-law's grand theft charge. A man in the office asked her a lot of questions about her interest in the case, she said.
She denies representing herself as an attorney at the time.
"Why would anybody do that?" she said. "It's a public record, I didn't need to be an attorney to get it."
"They're paranoid," she added.
Cutting said she was recognizd by someone in the clerk's office on the first day of her internship from that day, which resulted in her transfer from the records department to the traffic department.
Cutting also said she thinks her involvement in a now-inactive organization called Citizens Against Legal and Moral Abuse, which Cutting founded, caught the attention of staffers.
"Because who would be more apt to report wrongdoing than someone who started an organization like this?" Cutting said.
When asked to comment on her termination, O'Neil said in an email that Cutting "was asked not to return because she was an inappropriate fit for the office."
"My opponent's accusations of corruption are false," O'Neil wrote. "We have been recognized with numerous national awards given based on our accountability and transparency."
Cutting said she has contacted O' Neil numerous times, but has never gotten a response from her.
However, Tthe issue has come up at recent debates between the candidates, but Cutting said with only a minute to speak, she is not able to get her message out in its entirety.
"I have listened for a year to accusations against me, against my team at the clerk's office," O'Neil said at an Oct. 10 debate, according to the Times. "We stand by our integrity. We serve hundreds of thousands of customers every year," O' Neil said.
Despite the controversy which launched her campaign against O'Neil, Cutting said that her platform is not a "vendetta."
"No elected official should ever hurt someone they represent," Cutting said.
Cutting launched her campaign about two weeks after she was let go from the clerk's office, collecting each of the 2,980 valid petition signatures required to get her name on the ballot herself, she said.
"That's the same tenacity I would show as the clerk of court," she said.
Cutting said her non-party platform includes cutting "wasteful" spending and enlisting an outside auditor to scrutinize everything going in and out of the clerk's office.
O'Neil said her office is audited externally already.
"As custodian of the public's records and finances, we comply with Florida statutes, rules of court, county ordinances, administrative orders, and other governing restrictions to safeguard and protect the public. We are audited externally by an audit firm and comply with other extraneous audits from the state and federal government in various areas, as required. The professionals who have audited our procedures, transactions, and operations have given us clean audits, demonstrating our strict adherence to laws, statutes, rules, ordinances, and orders," O' Neil wrote in an email.
Cutting also said she would cut the clerk's $140,000 salary in half if elected, and "channel the rest back to the people," not to the government, as well as provide raises for employees and incentives for staff.
"The better people are treated, the more inspired they are," Cutting said.