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Former chief deputy challenges Merlino for clerk position

Former Nye County Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Winn is challenging her former boss, long-time County Clerk Sam Merlino in the 2014 election.

Winn is running as a Democrat and Merlino a Republican, meaning if there are no other candidates, they won’t face off until the November general election.

Merlino, a former office manager for security at the Tonpoah Test Range for 13 years, worked as a deputy clerk to the county commission for six years before being appointed to replace long-time county clerk Arte Robb in December 1999. She easily defeated Pahrump husband and wife candidates D.J. Rourke and Lorena R. Myers in the 2000 primary and general election and was unopposed in her bid for a first full term in 2002 and again in 2006 after changing her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

In 2010 Merlino defeated Norma Jean Opatik and Andy Alberti.

“The courts are so busy and that’s what’s taking up about 80 percent of my office’s time. We are clerk for the Board of Commissioners, Board of Equalization, we are the registrar of voters and are the clerk of the district courts,” Merlino told the Pahrump Valley Republican Women’s Club Monday night. “I am short of staff right now and I can tell you I was sitting on the floor of the vault doing the filing. I was doing the filing because we are that far behind and I want to let you know that I will do whatever it takes and I have done whatever it takes to get the job done,” she said.

Merlino was asked what she accomplished in her last term in an interview with the Pahrump Valley Times.

“We are going to a new case management system. Unfortunately it’s one we have to build. The justice courts are all going on it. They are supposed to convert in May, we have been working on this for a year,” Merlino said. “It will scan the documents which will make it easier to email copies to individuals. We hope to have something online so they can see their case. We hope to take credit cards for payment but it’s still a ways away, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

The clerk’s office has one or two employees working in courtrooms almost every day in Pahrump, Merlino said, if the paperwork gets heavy the Tonopah office helps out. She said there’s four employees in Tonopah and five employees in Pahrump besides herself.

While her 2010 opponents advocated term limits, Merlino said, “It’s taken a lot of years to learn what I know. I hope when I do step out I have things in place a new clerk can come in and refer to.”

“It takes a lot to learn everything there is to learn about elections that you need to do. It would make me nervous to have somebody just step in here not knowing what they’re doing. Court is another ball of wax. If you don’t have any experience, it makes it difficult for staff to come to you with issues,” she said.

“I have so many bosses, between the commissioners, the judges, the secretary of state, they pretty much dictate what we do,” she said.

Merlino conceded the running of elections is always an issue in the clerk’s election. She said the county clerk’s office couldn’t do absentee voting in Pahrump, like in Tonopah, because they don’t have the time or staff to deal with the large number of voters in Pahrump.

When she can find money, Merlino said her employees scan images from old court records and enter it into the Tyler management system to have a backup.

Winn, a native of Watertown, Wis., moved with her family to Las Vegas, then came to Pahrump in 1995. The first eight years in Pahrump she was a paralegal for Clark and Richards doing administrative law and workman’s compensation cases. She has a specialized associates degree as a paralegal from Las Vegas College where she was valedictorian in 1997.

Winn was hired by the county clerk’s office in June 2003, she was chief deputy clerk from 2007 until she resigned Feb. 18.

“I absolutely adored working for Sam Merlino. I can’t tell you how much we got close over the years. However, it just seemed our hands were always tied to do anything or make any differences. I just felt I could finally do something to make a difference,” Winn said.

Merlino is the last remaining countywide official to live in Tonopah. Winn said it isn’t a north-south issue, but she talked vaguely about unification of the two county clerk offices.

“I still have to do everything in the law, just like Sam always has. However there are changes in the office and in the communication between Tonopah and Pahrump, the unification of Tonopah and Pahrump as Nye County and the abilities of anyone here in Pahrump or Amargosa or Tonopah regardless, can get the same answer at the same time. it doesn’t necessarily have to be a divided office. We’re one,” she said.

Winn said her law background, familiarity with the county and her former position as chief deputy clerk make her a good candidate to replace Merlino.

“The majority of that (case) management system has been built by me as her chief deputy. It’s something I’m very familiar with. It’s supposed to add some wonderful conveniences to people on the outside of the county, even alone inside being able to email back and forth,” Winn said.

It was supposed to go live in May, but the county clerk thought it would be difficult to implement during the election season, she said. “It’s been a very frustrating system and it’s taken a long time to learn.”

Winn said she’d like to expand early voting. Otherwise, like Merlino, she thinks Nye County is too big to conduct elections much differently.

Winn would like to see closed and inactive files moved to Tonopah so there is more room in Pahrump.

Winn said she hopes to make the clerk’s office better for everyone, not just Pahrump.

“I don’t want people to think I’m going to go in and strip Tonopah’s election officials. I’m truly doing this for me and the county. I truly think I can do a good job. I’m not doing this against Sam Merlino,” Winn said.

Winn left her job suddenly Feb. 13, returned on Feb. 14, then gave her letter of resignation Feb. 18 before a replacement could be hired. Merlino said she is now short her chief deputy and a deputy clerk.

“My frustration level with my inability to make changes got the best of me. I made a snap decision that I couldn’t take back,” Winn said.

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