Clerk of Liberty Superior Court Elected Vice-Chairman of Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority

Barry Wilkes, Clerk
of Superior Court of
Liberty County, and
Tom Lawler, Clerk
of Superior Court
of Gwinnett County
Liberty County Clerk of Superior Court Barry Wilkes was elected on January 24, 2001, as vice-chairman of the Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority, the state entity responsible for operation of Georgia's Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), real estate, notary public, and judicial information systems.

Wilkes, who began his fifth term of office as Liberty County's Clerk of the Superior Court on January 1, 2001, was elected to the Authority's Board of Directors by the Executive Board of the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia in November 2000. "I was surprised, and yet honored, that I was elected vice-chairman, since there are others on the board who have served since the Authority's inception and who are more qualified than I," Wilkes said.

"It was with great trepidation that I took the appointment (as a board member). The demands of my job (as clerk of superior, state, juvenile, and magistrate courts of Liberty County) and my responsibilities at home - to my family, church, and community - were a consideration. But I am deeply committed to the Authority, what it has accomplished since its creation, and what it is doing for those of us in the trenches. It's a paradigm of how government ought to work and how simple solutions to complex problems can be solved without taxing everyone to death," Wilkes said. He explained that the Authority was created, implemented, and continues to operate "without ever having received one 'red cent' of funding from local, state or federal taxes." Instead, it operates on funds derived from user-based fees, which are assessed on UCC, and real estate documents filed in the superior court clerks' offices throughout the state.

"My estimates are that various governmental agencies and departments of Liberty County - not just the Clerk's Office -have received over $100,000 combined in equipment, consulting, and technological assistance and high-speed communications from the Authority. Although the Authority provided this assistance to enable (clerks' office and other governmental entities) us to do our jobs as a result of mandates required for the UCC and real estate information systems, what we have received has helped us locally to advance technologically and to put together other systems for doing other jobs not even related to the Authority projects, which we would not have been able to do otherwise. I've always known where we need to go technologically in this office, but I've never been willing to ask for funding from local tax dollars. I know we just don't have the resources. So, I am extremely thankful for everything we have received from the Authority," Wilkes said.

The Authority has "deep roots in Liberty County." Former State Representative Jimmy Floyd was serving on the Banking Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1984 when the financial community called for a system for securing financial interest in personal property, such as cars, tractors, mobile homes, and crops. At the time, a lending institution was required to file a UCC "financing statement" in every county in which the debtor resided or did business in order to secure a loan. The system had many inherent flaws and was very costly to the party borrowing money since, in many instances, the financing statement had to be delivered to and filed for a fee in superior court clerks' offices in the 159 counties of the state. The Banking Committee first considered implementing a statewide system under the auspices of the Secretary of State's office. "At that time, every project that office was responsible for had a lot of shortcomings. Estimates were that the proposed system would cost over $15 million and would have to be funded from tax revenues. So, we (clerks of superior court) asked the leadership of the Banking Committee to authorize us to create our own system for the purpose of providing one-stop filing of financing statements, with statewide applicability." With the assistance of Floyd and members of the banking community, other members of the committee readily accepted the concept. Almost all bankers throughout the state endorsed and supported the initiative.

"This was and remains to be quite a novel idea. Several of us (clerks of superior cour) worked with legislators to formulate legislation that provided for the system, as it exists today. We worked hard to enact the bill but, once the bill became law, the real work began for us. I was president of the Council (of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia) at the time (a post Wilkes held for five years, from 1991 until 1995, he being the first president of the organization). We didn't have any funds at our disposal, so all we (clerks involved in the project) had was "sweat equity." Everyone had to sacrifice hundreds of hours of 'sweat and tears' to put all the components in place. We worked around the clock for several months," Wilkes said.

On January 3, 1995, the first financing statement was received electronically in the newly created Authority office in Marietta. As president of the Council, Wilkes was at the helm as the inaugural executive director of the Authority (a position he served in for almost three months until a fulltime director was employed) when the first UCC arrived at the Authority office for processing into the statewide system. "It's an event I will never forget. It was like watching a child being born, much akin to a miracle," he said.

Since then, the Georgia General Assembly has required the Authority to create and operate similar statewide systems for providing access to records pertaining to real estate, civil cases (for superior and state court), and notaries public. This year, state legislators are expected to mandate that the Authority expand its information systems to include data pertaining to criminal cases filed in superior and state courts. Additionally, the Authority is partnering with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to create a system for delivering criminal justice data to the Georgia Crime Information System in an expedient and cost-effective manner.

"Every year, the demand for information housed in (clerks' of superior court) offices continues to mushroom and, since we are in the Information Age, it's never going to stop. As a board member and as vice-chairman of the Authority, I want to make sure that we provide a balance between the need for information and the privacy rights of everyone. I also want to ensure that we continue to operate without the necessity for tax dollars. We have too much taxation already," he added.

Woodson Daniel, former Clerk of the Superior Court of Pulaski County, has served as chairman of the board since 1985, when the Authority was created. Daniel retired as clerk of superior court last year but is still eligible by law to serve as a member. Two bankers and a county commissioner are appointed to the board by the governor. Two additional superior court clerks - including Tom Lawler, Clerk of the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, who also took office as a board member on January 24th, and Joanne Caldwell, Clerk of the Superior Court of Rockdale County, who has served on the board since 1985 - serve as members of the board.