Puleo and Jimenez aim for Suffolk County clerk seat

Puleo and Jimenez aim for Suffolk County clerk seat

TBR conducted a phone interview with Democrat Lisa Jimenez, left, and Republican Vincent Puleo, right, stopped by the office to discuss the 2022 county clerk race. Photo of Jimenez from candidate; photo of Puleo by Raymond Janis

After a June primary, current Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale (R) will not be running for the position.

Republican Vincent Puleo, town clerk of Smithtown, defeated Pascale, who has served in the position since 2006, in the primary election. In November, Puleo will face Democrat Lisa Jimenez, a newcomer to running for political office.

Jimenez was unable to come into the TBR News Media office for a debate. Puleo stopped by for an in-person interview with the editorial staff, and Jimenez answered questions from the writer in a phone conversation.

Vincent Puleo

Puleo, a Nesconset native, was a bar and restaurant owner for 26 years before a turn in the insurance business and then becoming town clerk in 2005. He has been a volunteer with the Nesconset Fire Department for 50 years and is the president of the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce.

He said he feels it’s important to be community-minded regarding his current position, and he will bring that mindset to the county.

“Without community interaction, people don’t know who you are, they don’t know what you do,” he said.

The county clerk position oversees access to deeds, title searches and supreme court records. Puleo said he has priorities if he wins the election, including transparency, constituent services and making records more accessible, including online.

Puleo added that he feels Pascale has done a good job regarding transparency, and he will look to see if anything else can be done to make the process even more transparent. His aim, he said, is to make all processes smoother.

Puleo said he feels people shouldn’t have to go to the county clerk’s office in Riverhead to get a record when it could be as simple as registering on the county’s website and accessing it virtually. 

He said he has obtained $350,000 grants three years in a row to digitize Smithtown records for the town itself, as well as the villages and fire departments within the township.

He said 90% of the supreme court records are digitized, and he would continue that trend. He added that unions have been concerned with records being digitized because it may eliminate employees.

“Not really, what it does is it gives you more time to service more people,” he said.

Once the county’s website is back up and running after the recent cyberattack, he said he feels improvements can be made to the site to make it more user-friendly. Before the cyberattack, title searches were already backed up, and he would like to make the process more efficient. He said first it’s important to meet with department heads to work together for the common goal.

Puleo said to avoid cyberattacks such as the one the county suffered from early in September, IT professionals need to be in charge overall of the entire county system and know what goes on in each department to ensure that everything that is imported or exported is protected. He said he understands the county is moving in that direction, which he finds encouraging.

Puleo added that he and other elected officials can advocate for the county to spend more money, and he applauds Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for allocating $8 million toward IT measures.

The Republican candidate added it helps to have relationships with elected officials, and over the past few months he has met with every county legislator.

“It’s a situation where you need to have those people understand where you’re coming from, and they have to trust you, and you have to trust them,” Puleo said. 

Lisa Jimenez

Jimenez, of Medford, has worked at the Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting for more than four decades. Before working full time for OTB, she worked as an assistant in Congressman Michael Forbes’ office (R/D-NY1).

She has been a member of Teamsters Local 237 and the AFL-CIO. The candidate also has volunteered as a catechist and at local food banks. She was active in her children’s PTA and recently was certified with Washington-based Underground Railroad which works to raise awareness about human trafficking and prevent it.

Jimenez said she feels her work experience and volunteer endeavors would be an asset to the county clerk position.

“I’m used to working with fast-paced, large groups and working with the unions,” she said. “I’ve learned how to come up with solutions quickly.”

Jimenez said she is open to learning new things.

“I’m willing to sit down and learn whatever I need to do to get the job done,” she said.

During her time with OTB, she has gone from cashier to human resources manager. 

“As a manager, as a cashier, I’ve done it front and center,” Jimenez said. “It’s not below me to do the job of the cashier. My branch needs to be cleaned then I’m out there cleaning. I will make myself as accessible as possible.”

After the recent cyberattack, she said she doesn’t think the county has made the best decisions as far as improvements to minimize security issues in the past, and she would meet with IT professionals to seek better solutions for internet security.

Regarding the website in general, she said she has had issues at times navigating through the county’s website and would like to see it be more user-friendly, especially when trying to access records.

“There’s always ways to improve upon what’s already there,” she said.

Jimenez believes completely digitizing records is better for the constituents, and she doesn’t feel that all records being digitized would lead to less employees.

Jimenez said if there was room in the budget, she would like to see the county open up satellite county clerk offices so residents wouldn’t have to travel to Riverhead to get paperwork. She would also suggest the offices stay open later than usual one or two days a month to make it easier for people who work a 9-to-5 job.

She said she would look to make the office more efficient with document processing being quicker.

“I think the next thing is the turnover of the paperwork,” she said. “How can we get that? You look at any other county, the paperwork is in and out. Ours isn’t.”

She also suggested providing assistance, possibly an office liaison, for veterans or those with disabilities to make it easier for them.

Jimenez agrees that Pascale has run a transparent office.

“I think she’s done a great job all these years,” she said. “I have nothing negative to say about her or Vinny. But, I think there’s always room for improvement.”