In a contest precipitated by the forthcoming retirement of four-term Moore County Clerk of Court Susan Hicks, Todd Elliott Maness and Christopher Shawn Morgan will compete for Moore County Clerk of Court in the Republican primary.
Maness, with 18 years of law enforcement experience, hopes to defeat longtime Deputy Clerk Chris Morgan, who is seeking his 23rd year working in the Moore County Clerk’s office.
Since there is no Democrat running for this office, the primary winner will likely be seated in December.
Both Maness and Morgan grew up in Robbins, graduated from North Moore High School and have known each other most of their lives. In fact, they enjoyed a dinner together at the beginning of their campaigns to look back and to look forward.
“Maness is a good man and I don’t think anything will change my opinion on that,” Morgan said.
Said Maness: “Morgan is a great guy and just like so many of us, has dedicated his life to public service.”
Both men are married; Morgan has three children, Maness has one.
As for their respective campaigns, both have pro-life, pro-God and conservative values included in their biographies. Both concur that neither would be where they are today without their families’ support, especially their wives.
There has been little turnover at the top for Clerk of Courts. Hicks joined the Moore County Clerk’s office in 2006 after serving in Randolph County for years. She rose to the top position in 2009 when then-Clerk Catherine Graham retired.
Hicks ran for election for a full four-year term in 2010 and won new terms in 2014 and 2018.
The Clerk of Court has numerous responsibilities. It has judicial roles and is a judge of probate, and serves as a judge regarding estates and minors. It hears adoptions, incompetency determinations and partitions of land. It issues arrest and search warrants, and takes guilty pleas in littering, traffic, wildlife, boating, fisheries, alcoholic beverages, state park recreation and worthless-check offenses.
As a part of its responsibilities to minors and incapacitated adults, the clerk administers insurance money or other money on behalf of them. The clerk also invests money received and held by the office in trust.
The clerk’s other duties include record-keeping. Its system includes maintaining and housing all legal proceedings and is custodian of all evidence in civil and criminal trials, and issues summons and subpoenas.
In order to run for the office of clerk, a high school diploma is required and the candidate must live in Moore County. The salary for a Moore County Clerk is paid by the state and is scaled in accordance with the number of assistants and deputies, based on the population of the county, and is $97,375 annually.
Morgan was a part of the clerk’s office at the time of the last clerk changeover.
“I am fortunate to have been a part of the transition from Catherine to Susan. Like Catherine and Susan, I intend to keep business as usual with an emphasis on training and education,” he said. “Cross training employees so that they can serve in multiple roles is a necessity in a small jurisdiction. It also provides more efficiency and empathy. We all need to understand and support our roles in the office to keep it running efficiently.
“I also believe that we can utilize more educational opportunities offered for NC clerks’ offices at the UNC School of Government.”
Morgan has participated in these courses and sees them as “invaluable in information and networking.” In fact, Morgan was past president and a board member of the N.C. Association of Assistant and Deputy Clerks. He insists “that continuing education and relationships with other county clerk offices will keep us moving forward and staying aware of what is going on at the state level that affects Moore County.”
Maness said he is most passionate about “the elimination of the gaps in issuing Temporary Restraining Orders.” Maness proposes that the county continue the video court proceedings that became available during the pandemic so that “anyone, at any time during office hours or after office hours, 24 hours a day, will have access to seeking legal temporary protection.”
Maness has been a board member of the Friend to Friend domestic violence advocacy nonprofit since 2018. The group operates a shelter for victims of domestic violence and assists victims with paperwork.
Both men were adamant about upholding the law and the oath taken when sworn in. Part of the many unusual responsibilities of the clerk is the issuance of a judicial waiver of parental consent for an unemancipated minor’s petition for abortion. Both men are conservative Christians and adamently pro-life. However, Maness “will never break a law and will 100 percent uphold existing laws.” Morgan similarly said, “My beliefs do not supersede a law. A law does not bend, does not cater and does not waiver.”
Debate Over Audits
One area of contention between the two candidates has been state audits that are routinely conducted of such offices. The audits assess financials as well as operational procedures.
For the most part, the Moore County Clerk’s Office received good reports over the years, but auditors recommended several areas for improvement, mostly over “segregation of duties.” Morgan says that’s true in many small counties with fewer workers.
“Auditors believe that more employees allow less room for issues because one person does one thing,” he said. “Like so many other small counties, that’s probably never going to happen for us and is one of the reasons why I think it is so important to make sure all of our employees do have the proper training to handle multiple responsibilities.”
Morgan also insists that when something has been gleaned from an audit, it is immediately addressed. “The purpose of audits is to learn from them, and in 2016, 2019, and 2022 we were thrilled to receive the highest ratings an office like ours can receive.”
Maness does not agree. He noted that the state audits “show that too many people have too much access to whatever it is that they want and that’s not okay.”
Maness did not place blame on Morgan, however. “I know that Chris was not in charge during these audits, but he is the deputy and that is second in charge.”
Maness also expressed concern in repeated offenses in audits noting that “one mistake is a problem but two is a pattern.”
According to research conducted by The Pilot, financial audits were performed in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2016. In those five audits, 2001, 2003, and 2005 received the highest ranking an audit can receive. In 2011, two recommendations were made. In 2016, one recommendation was made but 14 days later, Jordan Samuel, Director of Internal Audits, dismissed it and ruled the original auditor’s report “inaccurate and unwarranted.”
Internal Audits were performed in 2010, 2016, 2019, and 2022. In those five audits, all received the highest ranking an audit can receive.
Early voting is currently underway at the Moore County Agricultural Center in Carthage and at the Aberdeen Recreation Station. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 14. Election Day is Tuesday, May 17.