Nassau County Clerk Maureen O’Connell touted her experience in her position while Justin Brown, her opponent in the race for her job, said he wants to better inform the public about the role that the clerk’s office serves.
An East Williston resident, O’Connell served as a trustee and deputy mayor of the village from 1991 to 1998 before being elected to the state Assembly. She was the first woman elected by the 17th District, and served on the Assembly’s Judiciary and Insurance and Ethics committees.
After being elected as county clerk in 2005, O’Connell said, she oversaw the digitization of millions of documents ranging from property deeds to veteran’s discharge papers. As Nassau County and the rest of the world try to regain normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic, O’Connell stressed the importance of having an experienced candidate leading the clerk’s office.
“Experience matters in the county clerk’s office,” O’Connell said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “Without the legal experience and the technological knowledge of the operation, I think that whoever came into this office without that knowledge would be severely handcuffed.”
O’Connell, a Republican, began her career as a registered nurse at North Shore University Hospital and has a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Care Administration from St. Joseph’s College. Brown, a Democrat from Baldwin, also has experience in the health care sector. A hospital administrator with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Brown received his master’s degree in health administration from Hofstra University.
Brown is also the president of the Nassau County Board of Visitors, where he advocates for inmate rights, and serves on the executive board for Hofstra’s Master of Healthcare Administration Alumni program. Constantly talking to others and creating connections, Brown said, one of his main goals, if elected, would be to share the role of the clerk’s office with community stakeholders.
“Being a public advocate and advocating for other individuals … and working in the clerk’s office would be another way of serving the residents,” Brown said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “One thing I know is that many people throughout Nassau County do not know what the county clerk’s office is. One thing that has not been done within the county clerk’s office is community engagement.”
Brown said it is vital that the clerk’s office reaches out to individuals, in the form of seminars or programs, to relay what the office does within the county. Along with keeping track of property records, serving as the county’s notary system, and being Nassau’s ultimate keeper of documents, O’Connell said, she also serves as the clerk for the state Supreme Courts.
“Every lawsuit that is brought in the county of Nassau on a Supreme Court level is commenced here in the office of the county clerk,” she said. “So every time a lawyer starts an action or brings a motion for some kind of emergency relief, temporary restraining order, things of that nature, it is filed here in the office of the county clerk.”
O’Connell, who also received a Juris Doctor from St. John’s University School of Law, practiced in civil litigation, elder law,and health regulatory compliance. That experience, she said, provides her with a greater insight on how to interact with the attorneys that consistently use the clerk’s office.
Though the digitization of documents throughout the clerk’s office was a monumental step into the 21st century, O’Connell said, she also helped heighten the office’s online security so that hackers would not be able to access Nassau residents’ sensitive information. The pandemic, she said, caused some strain on the office’s employees not being able to access their documents from remote locations, but the safety of Nassau’s documents and records was and remains a top priority.
Acknowledging some of the technological work that has been conducted throughout the years, Brown said, modernizing the systems and getting rid of antiquated technology in the clerk’s office is also toward the top of his to-do list if he is elected.
“We need to modernize our systems because we have old, antiquated systems that are in place in the county clerk’s office,” Brown said. “They are not user-friendly, they take a lot of clicks to access certain documents and I want to put an in-house system in where we could collaborate with IT, not using taxpayers’ money, to establish a user-friendly service.”