Sopak Defends Office After Cornell’s Comments

Sandy Sopak is speaking out against the League of Women Voters and Democratic county clerk candidate Lori Cornell.

Sopak, outgoing Chautauqua County clerk, is speaking out against them in what she is referring to as an attempt to tarnish her 20-year reputation. Sopak said comments during debates Monday in Dunkirk and Tuesday in Fredonia hosted by the League of Women Voters reflected poorly and, Sopak says, inaccurately on her.

“On Monday night, the League of Women Voters held a debate in Dunkirk,” Sopak said. “During the debate, Lori Cornell, candidate for my position, was asked about her proposals to cut staff, improve services and upgrade technology, and if, in making those proposals, she had taken time to go to the county clerk’s office to see how the office is currently run. Her response, much to my dismay, was that she wasn’t welcome there. The moderator, Marcia Merrins, interjected her own commentary stating apparently politics is involved in the county clerk’s office.”

Cornell and Republican clerk candidate Larry Barmore each had the opportunity to convince voters why they are the best candidate to take over Sopak’s job during two debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Barmore spoke in defense of Sopak’s handling of the clerk’s office in regard to political issues.

“Mrs. Cornell has never asked for a tour of the county clerk’s office because everyone there is treated fairly,” Barmore said. “It doesn’t matter what party you belong to, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are treated with respect and equally in all departments of county government.”

“I don’t know how (Barmore knows) whether or not I’ve asked (for a tour), and I have talked personally with many of the employees in the county clerk’s office and have been asked by them, respectfully, and I will respect their wishes, to allow the election process to finish and then they would be happy to work together as a team,” Cornell said. “I need to respect that and as the next county clerk, I will take a non-partisan approach to the office. The office should not be a partisan office.”

On Wednesday, Sopak sent a letter via email to The Post-Journal that expressed disappointment with the debate moderators in failing to fact-check Cornell’s insinuation and with Cornell herself in insinuating Sopak cares about party affiliation in what is supposed to be a non-partisan office. She made her defense in a letter because she was not at the debates and had no other opportunity to defend herself.

“Since no one is allowed to make a statement during debates, except apparently the moderator, I would like to state my response here,” Sopak said. “I think it’s imperative that someone who wants the job takes the time to see just what we do and how we do it. For that reason alone I would not discourage a candidate from coming to see our operation.”

Sopak said Cornell has had ample opportunity to come to the county clerk’s office, as a legislator or member of the public, in recent years and that Cornell and Sopak spent time together at a recent event, though Sopak says Cornell didn’t ask about the clerk’s office during that encounter.

“I have never, in 20 years, denied anyone access to the county clerk’s office or made them feel uncomfortable, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t regulate who comes into the office, nor do I instruct my staff on who should or shouldn’t come in. This office welcomes everyone and everyone is treated with respect.”