The letter from B.J. Ostergren that Gary Clemens called "trash"

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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!".


HOORAY?


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


Dear friend,

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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7 Comments

BlackOut said:

Dear John,

I am assuming you are the one and only John Grigsby, signer of the LCRC oath intending to support all Republican candidates.

Why the attack on Gary? My I suggest your "intention" should be to speak with Mr. Withnell about the honor of respecting your oath. (see his recent post on this site)

Dear BlackOut,

Yes, I do support Gary Clemens for Clerk of Circuit Court, but like Gary and Brian, and unlike the local Democrat committee, I support a healthy and open debate regarding the issues, which must start with a full understanding thereof.

Best regards,

John

Blackout:

I will vote for Gary in November; if anyone challenges him, I will work to help assure he is elected. That does not mean that I believe he has done all the right things. Some of what I've seen him do is what I'd call political slime. One case in point is waving around two of the three clean audits for his term and saying that he has two clean audits, and that the problems in his office were from before he took office. The third audit that was clean was his first. Another clean audit of the office occurred in 1999 (all of these are available on the APA website).
The real slime in my view is his saying all the problems were from the prior clerk, when he knows full well that the office was pronounced "clean" in 2001 (covering all of 2000). Of course it would have been awkward for him to say he didn't know what was happening in his office so he called in outside auditors, and it would have been awkward to say his office really didn't have any problems when he arrived, but it did get really bad, but now he's learned how to run it.

Saying that he has problems is telling facts. It isn't saying we don't support his election--I certainly don't want a Democrat in the office. There are plenty of things he does well. When my first wife died, I never had a problem with getting death certificates. When I remarried, I never had any problem changing the title on the house. I didn't have a problem with getting a marriage license. I've not had any problem with the jury duty procedures. But having some things work well does not mean he is doing a good job. A good job is getting nearly everything working well, and not having a lot to complain about.

Glenn Maravetz said:

Nothing wrong with healthy debate Mr. Grigsby.

Seems like your commentary would have been more appropriate for a pre-convention post. The opinionated content doesn't do any favors to the LCRC nominee. I would have expected a more supportive stance from someone who signed the pledge. I was intrigued by the dichotomy of "John from Loudoun" 's post, and Mr. Withnell's.

Just my opinion.

Glenn Maravetz said:

Mr. Withnell I can respect your opinion, and certain appreciate your comments pointing out a few of the good things Mr. Clemens has been doing for the citizens of Loudoun. We just happen to disagree on some of the conclusions you are making about the efficiencies of the Clerk's office. That's fine, reasonable people can disagree and I am not here to change your mind.

What is a curiosity to me is Mr. Grigsby's attack on Mr. Clemens. My guess is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the Clerk's office and has everything to do with some sort of personal vendetta.

I am just looking for an open healthy debate on the real issue. We can talk about the virtues of the Loudoun County Clerks Office and Mr. Clemen's leadership on another day.

Just my opinion.

Glenn,

Thanks for the respect. I can also see someone can disagree, and I can respect that as well; after all, I will vote for Gary in November!

Perhaps we can sit over an eight shot venti, no foam, breve, latte some day and talk about it.

Brian

DontMessWithTexas said:

Brian says:

"I didn't have a problem with getting a marriage license."

Did you marry a man or a woman? It never hurts to say which these days.

John says:

"and unlike the local Democrat committee, I support a healthy and open debate regarding the issues"

John must be a member of the Democrat [sic] committee. If not, he is just spewing unsubstantiated opinion, and we know that nobody would do that on this fine reputable blog.

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