Summit County Clerk Kent Jones to retire after a quarter-century in office
County Democrats to nominate replacement, position to be on ballot in 2022
After almost a quarter-century as the Summit County clerk, in a tenure that spanned two stints in elected office and witnessed the first personal computer at the County Courthouse, significant changes to the county’s system of government and a huge jump in voter turnout, Kent Jones is retiring.
Jones was appointed clerk in 1993 and won election the next year as a Republican. He served until 2002, when he was defeated by a challenger, then recaptured the office in 2006, this time as a Democrat. He most recently was reelected in 2018. His last day is Friday.
“I’ve had a good long run,” said Jones, 68. “I just feel like now is the time, it’s somebody else’s turn. I’m walking away feeling good about the job, and about what I’ve done and now I can relax a little.”
He said he’s looking forward to spending time with his 23 grandchildren and attending their ballgames, as well as seeing whether a horse he owns is fast enough to race and working on projects near his house.
Jones said the clerk has one of the best jobs in the county’s government, tasked primarily with helping people and not, for example, collecting taxes.
“The one thing about the Clerk’s Office — it’s 100% public oriented. In other words, everybody that comes to our office, we help,” he said.
The office processes business licenses and marriage licenses and passports, but its most public-facing responsibility is administering elections.
After a switch to voting by mail, turnout in the county has reached 90%, up from 46% in the non-presidential election in 2006 when Jones returned to office.
“That’s one thing that we’ve taken pride in in our office, not having issues with elections, no big issues,” he said.
For a brief time last year, ahead of a hotly contested presidential election, it appeared that might not remain the case.
The Clerk’s Office was forced into quarantine due to the coronavirus and had to stop counting votes on the eve of Election Day last year.
Some in the community said the Clerk’s Office should have been more prepared for the chance that would occur, but Jones said the stoppage didn’t have a meaningful effect on the vote count, as staffers had already processed about 18,000 votes.
“We actually finished right at the same time we would have normally and we were able to do that without any risk to any of our staff or helpers,” Jones said. “I would do it exactly the same way again.”
The ordeal was unique in Jones’ tenure, which included two wholesale changes to the election system.
Jones said election experience will be key for his successor, and that’s one of the reasons he wants Chief Deputy Clerk Kellie Robinson to be his replacement.
Jones is stepping down in the third year of a four-year term he won in 2018. The Summit County Council will appoint an interim clerk nominated by the Summit County Democratic Party to serve out the remainder of Jones’ term, which expires at the end of 2022. Meredith Reed, the Summit County Democratic Party chair, said she anticipated nominating Robinson.
The position will be on the ballot in the 2022 general election.
When Jones was first appointed, things were different at the County Courthouse. The county had three part-time county commissioners and many of the administrative tasks now performed by the county manager and county staff were carried out by elected officials.
Jones said that when he started, the treasurer was in charge of the Animal Control office and the auditor was in charge of personnel.
“Everything was done by memos and mailboxes. Nobody had personal computers,” Jones said. “There was a mainframe in the courthouse, everybody had a dumb terminal they worked off of. Everybody knew everybody in the building and pretty much everybody who was employed. Not like that today, (there are) lots of people you don’t know.”
Jones was appointed to finish the term of David Geary, who was a Republican. Jones applied to the party to be nominated, and then ran successful campaigns as a member of the GOP.
“Then in 2002, I lost the election by 49 votes,” Jones said. “I was gone for four years and I still had an interest in the job, and I had several people contact me and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you run again? And you and I both know what the political situation in Summit County is: Democrats are a stronger ticket vote than Republicans.’ So I thought well, I lost as a Republican, maybe I’ll just file as a Democrat and see where it goes.”
Jones defeated incumbent Clerk Susan Follett in the Democratic convention, he said, and hasn’t lost an election since.
“It wasn’t really a life choice,” Jones said. “…It’s a Democratic controlled county. But the job is the same job whether it’s a Republican or Democrat.”
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The Summit County Council is poised to extend its order allowing school mask requirements at a meeting Monday. No school is close to the case-number threshold, according to state data.