Isle of Wight County treasurer, clerk of court seats draw multiple candidates

Published 1:49 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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By Akilah Frye

Staff writer

Competitive races are set for two Isle of Wight County constitutional offices being vacated by incumbents.

Dahlis T. Atkins and Julie Slye will face off for the position of Isle of Wight treasurer in the Nov. 7 general election. Atkins is serving as interim treasurer after the recent retirement of Judith Wells. 

Also on the ballot will be the county’s clerk of court position between Laura E. Smith and Elisabeth Culpepper. Incumbent Clerk Kathleen Torrence will retire at the end of her term on Dec. 31. 

Atkins, who is serving as interim treasurer after 22 years as chief deputy treasurer, said she is “researching ways to streamline our billing and payment processes for our citizens.”

“I plan to utilize technology to improve efficiency in the office,” she said. “My experience with all aspects of the Treasurer’s Office is the key to ensuring our citizens continue to receive

the customer service they deserve.”

Atkins has been certified as both a Master Governmental Deputy Treasurer and Master Governmental Treasurer through the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia. Atkins is also certified through the Virginia Government Finance Officers Association.

“If elected treasurer for Isle of Wight County, I will continue to lead the office with

integrity and transparency,” she said. “My years of experience in the Treasurer’s Office has provided me with a keen understanding of what the citizens expect.”

Slye, a resident of Isle of Wight County for over 20 years and currently a deputy treasurer in the Greensville County Treasurer’s Office, worked as a deputy treasurer in the Isle of Wight Treasurer’s Office from October 2008 to March 2022.

“During my almost 15 years in a Treasurer’s Office I have provided customer service to citizens in person, on the phone or by email,” she said. “I have prepared and mailed bills for utilities and taxes, prepared and sent liens for past due taxes, and prepared bank reconciliations monthly.

“If elected treasurer, I will focus on billing, collecting, managing and investing county revenues; use all collection methods available to a treasurer under the Code of Virginia to provide fair and efficient tax collection practices; evaluate and implement any changes necessary to provide citizens with services they deserve and pay for; ensure accurate and timely financial reconciliations to the appropriate boards or agencies; and select the safest and most lucrative investments to increase revenue to help ease the tax burden on citizens.”

Culpepper is currently a public defender who has been serving the citizens of Suffolk for the past six years. 

I function in a much broader capacity of not only representing my clients in court hearings but also assisting them with rehabilitation services for substance use and mental health treatment as well as building programs that make our community safer and healthier,” she said.

Although Culpepper has never worked in a clerk’s office, she works with them on a daily basis.

“As an attorney, I have familiarized myself with many of the important functions that a clerk’s office provides our citizens, as well as the time and costs that come with it,” she said. “My entire career has focused on public service, community building and ensuring everyone has access to justice. That is my passion and I look forward to continuing that work right here at home.”

She has a five-point plan for what she’d like to achieve as clerk of court: updating to an “industry-leading” case management system that saves money because it’s more effective; making sure “every penny the taxpayer spends is used smartly and effectively”; bringing back the function of the clerk as a marriage commissioner, increasing the availability of online services and making sure citizens know about them.

Culpepper said the current clerk does not function as an officiant of marriages. 

“The benefit of the clerk being an officiant is they can perform marriages at the courthouse on the spot,” she said. “This is an important service that isn’t currently being provided and I cannot think of a good reason why not.”

“Most important, provide the safety net that comes with being an experienced, licensed attorney,” she said. “Your clerk is responsible for upholding hundreds of laws and policies that directly affect citizens. Your money, property and sometimes even your liberty are at stake. Wills, estates, deeds and drafting court orders, all of these require close attention to detail and a deep understanding of Virginian jurisprudence. Isle of Wight deserves a clerk with that knowledge and experience.”

Smith is a lifelong resident of Smithfield. 

“I started my interest in the judicial system in 2006 when I began working for the law office of White & White, P.C. in Newport News,” she said.

In 2011, Smith was hired by the then-Clerk of the Court Sharon N. Jones as a deputy clerk and began to learn about the duties of a clerk.

Since December 2020, she has served as chief deputy clerk.

Smith said she plans on using her experience in the Isle of Wight clerk’s office to help her prepare for the job.

“I will bring my 12 years of in-office training, knowledge and experience to ensure that the operations of the office and our high standard of customer service continues flawlessly and without interruption,” she said. “The Isle of Wight County Clerk’s Office serves a rapidly expanding population with a very small staff. The clerk of this county is not a figurehead but a fully participating staff member who has an actual job to do. This is not a political job as we serve everyone equally in the clerk’s office. I know the job; I understand the concerns of the citizens who need our help to process important matters.”