Butts County Georgia
For Immediate Release
Contact: Michael Brewer as PIO
We are sad to announce that Rhonda W. Smith, who has served as the Clerk of Superior Court for Butts County since 1994, has notified us of her intention to retire from office, effective March 31st, 2019. A native of Butts County, Ms. Smith is currently the longest-tenured Butts County employee, with 35 years of continuous service to the Clerk of Court’s Office.
She was originally hired on March 5, 1984 by then-Clerk David Ridgeway, serving as a Deputy Clerk. Upon his retirement in 1991, she became the Chief Deputy Clerk under his successor, Audrey Halley, then moved into the top seat when Ms. Halley retired on May 31, 1994. That fall, Ms. Smith won a special election to fill the remainder of the term. At the time she took office she was the youngest Superior Court Clerk in the state, and she has since been re-elected six times, in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. In addition to having the highest seniority in County government, she is also the longest serving Constitutional Officer, one of four local elected positions that are defined in the Constitution of the State of Georgia, along with the offices of Sheriff, Probate Judge and Tax Commissioner.
During her 35 years with the Superior Court, Rhonda Smith has overseen tremendous change in how the office and its business practices are handled. When she began her career with the Clerk’s Office, the records of the court were still handled by typewriter, and many were still done by handwriting, much in the way it had always been done since the County was created. Under her watch, the office transitioned over to electronic records, first internally and eventually, through web-based internet format, resulting in most records dating back over the past 100 years being available to research through the internet. This transition was completed in recent years when the court became “bookless” and today, court cases are filed electronically.
The Butts County Superior Court is unique, in that it not only has a state prison within the county but hosts the only one that handles death row cases. This puts an additional workload on the local Clerk of Court not found in other counties because of habeas cases filed frequently from inmates of the prison system, as well as additional unique workload burdens that go along with death row cases. During her time with Butts County, these cases have all been handled and processed professionally and efficiently through Ms. Smith and her staff of employees.
Smith has, in one way or another, been involved with court work since she was 15 years old, when she began working part time for the late Hugh Glidewell in small claims court. After graduating from Jackson High School, she began her tenure with the Superior Court and according to her, “has seen just about everything” in the business, although she readily admitted that she still encounters new challenges to the everchanging landscape of judicial work. Her office has consistently grown busier as more responsibilities get pushed down from the state legislature onto the local Superior Court Clerks, and she noted that 2019 will see a lot of Clerks retiring in Georgia.
“One thing I won’t miss” she said this past week “is coming in to the office at 6:30 in the morning, which was a quiet time I needed to get work done before the office opened for the public”. She intends to enjoy her retirement by spending more time with her family, including husband Byron, her two grown children, Jake Waits and Lauren Kersey, and especially “looking after my grandbaby, Auden”, who already takes up a lot of her free time.
When asked how she has managed the Office of Clerk successfully for so many years, she attributed this to “having a great staff, both current and past, who I have enjoyed working closely with each day”, and this is reflected in an office that has one of the lowest turnover rates of any agency of Butts County.
When Smith officially retires on March 31st, Butts County will have its first new Superior Court Clerk in 25 years, when Chief Deputy Clerk Morgan Vereline moves into the position. She will fulfil the remainder of Smith’s current term, which expires on December 31, 2020, and can run for the office in next year’s election. Ms. Vereline is a graduate of Georgia Southern University and has worked for the Court since 2016. She became the Chief Deputy Clerk last year, following the retirement of longtime incumbent Beth Weaver, and since then she has been working closely with Smith to prepare for the transition.
When asked how she felt about taking on the job of Clerk, Vereline confessed to being “a little nervous but excited as well”. Her future plans for the Clerk’s Office include continuing to take advantage of opportunities to make the office more technologically proficient and staying ahead of the change technology brings. She will be sworn in by the Probate Judge on March 27th at 4PM in the Superior Courtroom of the Butts County Courthouse, and will assume her new duties April 1st.
Since the Office of the Clerk of Court was established in 1826, 21 individuals have held the position, and since January 1st, 1961, only three individuals have held the office of Clerk of the Superior Court. These include David Ridgeway, who served from that date until his retirement on December 1, 1991; Audrey Halley, who served from December 1, 1991 until June 1, 1994; and Rhonda Smith, who has served since that date. Smith holds the second longest tenure in the job and actually holds the record for the longest service to the Office, with 35 years total.
“This is actually a historical moment if you think about it” said Deputy County Administrator Michael Brewer, who also oversees the County historical archives. “I’m nearly 53 years old and in my entire lifetime, only three people have ever held that office, two of them having served longer than any other Clerk of Court in our 194-year history. To have only three Clerks in 58 years is remarkable, and if you put Rhonda’s years with the years Mr. David served, that’s almost a third of our county’s history between just two very dedicated people”.
A reception will be held to honor the service of Rhonda W. Smith, Clerk of the Superior Court of Butts County, on March 22nd from 2PM until 4PM in the Office of the Clerk, 26 Third Street. All Butts County citizens are invited to drop by and wish her well on her retirement.