Camden court clerk faces challenger
By Chris Day
Thursday, April 19, 2018
CAMDEN — Paula Harrison likes her job as Clerk of Superior Court for Camden County. To keep it, she’ll first have to fend off a challenge in the May 8 Democratic primary and then defeat a Republican opponent in the fall.
Harrison is seeking a third term as Camden’s top court administrator. Her Democratic opponent is Monique Chamblee, an employee of the city of Elizabeth City. The winner of their May 8 primary will take on Republican Rhiana Srebro in the November general election.
A Camden native, Harrison has been an employee in the clerk’s office since 1985, when she began working for the office part time. That remained her status for nearly nine years, until Oct. 1, 1993, when she was made full time.
"My desk was in the vault back there in the corner," she said, pointing from her office.
Harrison, 58, was appointed clerk of court at the start of 2009, filling the vacancy resulting from Ann Spivey’s retirement. Harrison was elected to a term in her own right in 2010 and was re-elected to a second term in 2014.
Chamblee, too, has experience in the Camden clerk’s office, where she worked for 10 years before leaving for another job.
Chamblee could not be reached for an interview for story. However, she was one of several candidates who participated in a Brunch With the Candidates forum held Saturday at the Camden County Senior Center.
At Saturday’s forum, Chamblee was asked by a resident why she left the clerk’s office. At the time she left, she explained, the state was not offering raises for court employees. Additionally, she said, her position was at-will and she didn’t want to be in a situation where she could suddenly lose her job.
Chamblee said she went on to become the first female crime scene investigator for the Elizabeth City Police Department and enjoyed that work. Now she is ready to return to work in Camden County at the clerk’s office, she said.
The chief role of the clerk of Superior Court is to maintain all court-related documents, which include both civil- and criminal-related matters. The clerk’s office also is where residents go to make payments on civil and criminal fines, such as traffic tickets or probation fees.
The clerk of court also serves as an ex-officio judge of probate, which gives them authority to exercise judgment in estate issues, such as foreclosures.
"My main field right now is estate work," Harrison said in an interview this week.
In North Carolina, clerks of Superior Court fall under the oversight of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and their duties are mandated by state law.
Harrison said most often when residents visit her office they are distraught. Helping them is what she likes most about her job.
"I just enjoy what I do," she said, of her job. "I enjoy helping people, solving whatever issues they have."
Sometimes helping residents solve those issue can be rather uplifting.
"Adoptions are probably the most joyous of what we do," Harrison said.
Chamblee, who works as an administrative assistant for the city’s Community Development Department, said in March after filing for election she had decided to challenge Harrison because she feels change is needed in the clerk’s office.
Chamblee also said she has no criticism of the operations of the office. One change Chamblee said she’d like to make if elected would be to bring back student internships to the clerk’s office.
She also believes, she said, that there needs to be what she called better collaboration between the clerk’s office and the community.
"I feel like, even though you are a clerk and a deputy clerk, you need to also be prominent in the community," Chamblee said in March. "I just feel like there needs to be more of an understanding and connection."
Harrison notes that she is involved in the community. Besides the work for her church, Sawyer’s Creek Baptist, she notes she also volunteers at Food Bank of the Albemarle and Blackwell Preschool and in the Camden County Schools.
One service the clerk’s office provides to the community are computers for residents to search civil and criminal data. Currently those terminals are in the back of the office in the vault. Harrison said plans are to relocate those computers to the lobby of her office to provide residents easier access.
Camden has one of the smallest clerk's offices in the state, which requires a minimum staff of five employees plus a court clerk.
"That's us," Harrison said, indicating that only six people total work in her office.
On Wednesday, about 150 fifth-graders from Grandy Primary were set to visit the Camden Courthouse. Harrison said she often speaks to students about the role of her office. Teachers at Camden County High School will at times bring their students to her office, too, for civics lessons.
For her part, Chamblee said she participates in several activities in Camden, and has a servant’s heart.
“I just want the opportunity to give back to the county,” Chamblee said.
Staff Writers William F. West and Reggie Ponder contributed to this story.