All three candidates for the clerk of courts position have one thing in common: Neither of them really think the position should be a partisan one.
The three contestants are Kelly Schremp (58) who is currently acting as interim clerk of courts; Pam VanOoyen (47), who worked as a judicial assistant for Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Mike Moran; and Benjamin Seidler (35), who works as an administrative assistant in the District Attorney’s Office.
It’s a bit of a weird fluke that county positions such as sheriff, county clerk and clerk of courts are partisan positions. The state constitution declares that the races will be held in the November partisan primaries, and thus got lumped in with the other partisan races. It’s considered an oddity because for the most part, those positions don’t dictate policy.
This year those three are all running as Republicans; no one is running on the Democrat side for the role. That effectively makes the Aug. 9 primary the final vote on who gets to be clerk of courts.
Shirley Lang announced her retirement in November and officially hung it up in December, leaving Schremp in charge as interim clerk of courts until the election. County officials elected not to appoint someone to the role officially since the election was just around the corner.
Neither of them see the role as partisan.
Schremp had worked in the clerk of courts office for 12 years, and was deputy clerk of courts until being named interim clerk of courts after Lang retired. Schremp told City Pages she sees it as a chance to make a difference in people’s lives, and says they office works hard on its culture. “We see people a lot of the time at the lowest point in their lives,” Schremp says. “Being kind and helping them through the system has been very rewarding to me.”
Schremp wants to see the clerk of courts office be part of the conversation around addressing the court backlogs, which existed before the pandemic but grew even worse while trials were shut down nearly a year.
Schremp touts her leadership skills and work ethic as reasons to vote for her. “I just enjoy my job and everyone I work with.”
Right out of the gate, signs started popping up for Schremp and for Van Ooyen, and it quickly became hard to go anywhere without seeing them.
VanOoyen (pronounced like “owen” she says), who has worked in the court system for 30 years, says she’s running because she wants to see a change in the office. “I have various ideas on how to improve customer service and making things more efficient,” VanOoyen told City Pages. “Changing up the way they do things a little.”
One idea VanOoyen touts is cross-training. Every person in the office should be cross-trained on other jobs so no aspect of the office is down just because someone is out. VanOoyen says she wants to improve the office’s morale, which she says should help improve friendliness to the people who stop by.
VanOoyen says she sees the most crucial role of the clerk of courts is keeping the courts running smoothly. Besides being the keeper of court records, the office coordinates jury trails, no small undertaking. Like Schremp, VanOoyen sees the clerk of courts as having a crucial role with the other parts of the legal system in getting the backlog taken care of.
Seidler says he wants to take his leadership abilities he’s developed through programs such as the Central Wisconsin High School Leadership Board, which helps instill leadership skills in area youth. Seidler ran in 2018 against Lang, though he was unsuccessful in that attempt.
Seidler says he has a first-hand knowledge of the clerk of courts through his role in the DA’s office, and has built a number of relationships. He touts is ability to get past fingerpointing and solve the problem.
Seidler says he has a fresh perspective since he doesn’t currently or hasn’t worked in the clerk of courts office. That will help brings some fresh ideas to the position. “I’ve always done it that way, going in with an open mind and with some fresh ideas,” Seidler says.
Both Seidler and Schremp say they lean Republican, and for VanOoyen it was more a strategic choice as the county tends to lean that way. It’s an ironic flip: non-partisan elections for county board, city council and school board last spring ended up becoming very partisan, with political parties and outside groups running endorsement lists; but here an actually partisan race is being run as if it were a non-partisan one.
Either way, this will be the most attention the clerk of courts race has gotten in some time.