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Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn won't seek fifth term

Becky Campbell • Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 11:35 PM

Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn told her employees earlier this week she will not seek re-election to a fifth term next year.

Guinn, 66, will officially step down at the end of her term Aug. 31. One of her employees, Deputy Clerk Michele Walsh, has already picked up a petition to run for the seat from the county election commission.

“It was a hard decision because I love my job, and I love the work,” Guinn said Wednesday. “I have been blessed here. If it wasn’t for the voters of Washington County, I wouldn’t be here, and I thank them for that.”

Guinn began her career in the clerk’s office in September 1974 under then-Clerk Tommy Dillow as a deputy clerk. Eight years later, she was named chief deputy clerk for Don Squibb, who remained in office 20 years. When he retired in 2002, Guinn ran for office.

But with 43 years behind her, Guinn said it’s time to go home.

“It’s time for the younger generation to take over,” she said. “My husband’s been retired for seven years, and he’s been patient. He would not have had a problem if I had run again, but now we’ll get to fish more, ride the Sea-Doo and kayak.”

Both are avid campers and have a permanent site at a local lake.

Guinn said she’s seen many changes in how the clerk’s office operates, including four different locations — from Ashe Street to the Downtown Center in Johnson City to the old courthouse on Main Street in Jonesborough and now at the Justice Center — as well a recent $200,000 computer upgrade and other technology enhancements. The new system marks the first time Washington County court records are accessible to any degree outside the courthouse.

“Now that I’ve seen the new computer system through, things are going good and I feel like I’ve done what I can do,” she said.

Guinn admits that when she was first elected, the extent of the job ahead scared her a little.

“I told Jr. (her husband), ‘What have I done?’ and he said I’d be just fine,” she said.

Guinn has seen 19 judges come and go in her 43 years, and a number of employees as well. Her current staff was shocked Tuesday when she made her announcement.

“I did not expect it,” said deputy clerk Helen Sikora. “I didn’t think she was ready.”

But apparently Guinn thought differently, so her countdown has begun. She said she’s always tried to be respectful of the public she serves and hopes the next elected clerk will do the same.

“I always wanted the employees to treat the people on the other side of the counter as if it were them on the other side of the counter,” Guinn said. “I hope that whoever takes my place will do the same.”

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