The letter from B.J. Ostergren that Gary Clemens called "trash"
Gary Clemens' presentation was entertaining. No one can deny that. What concerned me deeply, having had more time to examine the facts, was his complete dismissal of key valid criticisms of his performance in his first term as Loudoun County's Clerk of Court.
Brian Withnell has spoken to the matter of the audits -
- the "clean" 2000 audit (as Gary came in the door),
- the 2002 audit, which was a disaster, and which referred to some previous correspondence (I'm guessing 2001) when the auditors warned Clemens of the issues they would ding him on when they returned in 2002,
- the 2004 audit that was improved, but still a mess.
Gary Clemens dismissed all this by saying "but hey, I've got two clean audits now!".
As someone who would enjoy time in a gulag over that spent balancing a checkbook, I'll move on to the portion of Gary Clemens' speech/performance that really burned me the most - that dealing with privacy of personal online data. On the stage, Gary Clemens crumpled up a letter from a victim of identity theft, who knows well his history on this issue, threw it away, and referred to it is "trash", undeserving of a response.
B.J. Ostergren is a wonderful woman. Since being a victim of identity theft herself, she has been an army of one in the battle for privacy of online data. Her main foe - clerks of circuit court, like Gary Clemens. Here's the letter she authored, which was handed out to delegates at the 2007 Loudoun GOP convention. Gary Clemens referred to this letter as "trash". What do you say - "trash" or "treasure"?
Betty "BJ" Ostergren, Founder/Editor The Virginia Watchdog
I don't live in your county, and personally I don't care what you do to yourselves at your upcoming convention, but I want you to know what your Clerk of Circuit Court, Gary Clemens, did to you, despite the attempts of many, including myself and your Board of Supervisors, to stop him.
In 1987, my husband I were victims of identity theft. After much time, many hassles, and several hundred dollars spent, we were able to get back money wrongfully taken from us. Lightning can strike twice. In 1989, we discovered again that we were victims of identity theft a second time.
Since then, I've been devoted to helping make sure this doesn't happen to others. I've done this on my own dime. As a result, my activities have been covered by numerous news outlets, including the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Consumers Digest, CNN, FOX NEWS, and many others.
Several years ago, a small number of Virginia Circuit Court Clerks, including Gary Clemens, rushed to put divorce decrees, deeds of trust (mortgages), and other documents containing personal information, on the web, without first redacting Social Security numbers, minor children's names, and other very personal data. When Mr. Clemens was running hard to do this, in 2003, I signed up for access to his system and in just several hours over a three day period, I downloaded over 1,500 social security numbers as any identity thief could have done also. The list of "potential" victims of identify theft included your former Commonwealth's Attorney, two Loudoun deputies, at least one current member of your Board of Supervisors, and other candidates running for public office. Being a wealthy county, naturally Loudoun would be a plum target for identity thieves.
With my own money I mailed letters with that information to those people whose records I downloaded; however, many more citizens were at risk than just the ones who received that letter in July 2003. Just looking around in his site showed me that tens of thousands of additional personal identities of Loudoun residents were at risk as well but I could only do so much. Shortly thereafter, Gary Clemens had the nerve to tell me that a woman in public service, who called him as a result of my letter to her, was mad at me (but not Gary) for sending her a letter. I've since called her and she told me that she was not mad at me. Naturally, she was mad at the person who put information about her, her former spouse, and their children on the web, that being your Clerk of Circuit Court, Gary Clemens.
Your Board of Supervisors passed a motion calling on Mr. Clemens to halt until privacy of data was no longer compromised.
For seven months he delayed putting the system back on the Internet. Despite claims he made to the contrary, when he put the system back up, that information was still available. Recently, Clerk Clemens began to remove SSNs, a process that is not complete. Was the risk he has taken with your personal information worth the comfort it gave about 35 title searchers who preferred to do their work at home in their bathrobe, instead of down at the court house? Would you have done as he did? Nothing though has been done by him to protect dates of birth, signatures, financial account numbers, mothers' maiden names, minor children's names or the details in divorce decrees and other legal papers like Trusts and Guardianship papers.
Gary Clemens is First Vice President of the Court Clerks Association, a group that never supported the common-sense restrictions I and my fellow privacy advocates fought hard for in Richmond. If you want to send a message to the folks who are pushing more counties to put their records online without adequate safeguards, you might want to look closely at the contestants in this race.
Please call me at 804-730-9242 if I can answer any of your questions. My website, www.TheVirginiaWatchdog.com, may be helpful to you as well.
Thanks for your attention to this matter.
Betty "BJ" Ostergren, Founder/Editor
The Virginia Watchdog
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