Two Republicans seek job as Westmoreland's prothonotary

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It will be a mostly quiet primary election for Westmoreland County row offices, in which four incumbents are unopposed for their party's nomination in the May 21 primary. But there is a contested race on the Republican ballot for prothonotary, the county office that keeps all civil court records.

Incumbent prothonotary Christina O'Brien is running unopposed on the Democratic ballot for another four-year term. Carl Stepanovich, 68, of Murrysville and Mike Powers, 25, of Hempfield are running for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Stepanovich has been an aide to state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, for two years.

"I tried retirement, but I didn't like it," he said. "I like to be productive."

He works as a constituent outreach specialist and helps residents in the lawmaker's New Kensington office with state services such as unemployment compensation or rent and property tax rebates.

Mr. Stepanovich has worked in marketing and sales for several businesses in the Pittsburgh area. Most recently he sold meter reading systems for utilities. He also worked for Westinghouse selling process control computers and for Gould Computer Systems selling equipment to utilities.

Mr. Powers is a supervisor for UPS in New Stanton. He was executive director of the county Republican Party for eight months in 2011 leading up to the November election, when two Republican commissioners took over the board majority. He worked for state Sen. Kim Ward's re-election campaign in 2012, when she won both party nominations in the primary, and he was the Western Pennsylvania campaign coordinator for U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith in fall 2012.

"I want to see county government run as efficiently as possible for the taxpayers," Mr. Powers said, pointing out that few states still elect officials tothat office. "But since we have a prothonotary by state law, we need to see it is run as efficiently as possible," he added.

One of the changes both candidates would make to the prothonotary's office is to have extended hours.

"Some of the offices only are open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., so some people can't get there then," Mr. Stepanovich said. "So I'd like to try staying open from 4 to 6 p.m. two days a week, like the Recorder of Deeds and Register of Wills do. The current incumbent hasn't had any extended office hours in the last three years."

Mr. Powers said he thinks the office should be open one night a week.

Both candidates also said they'd like to investigate allowing the public to use credit cards to pay the fees for the court papers they are filing.

Mr. Stepanovich also wants to look at adding electronic filing by computer.

"We do that now in Rep. Evankovich's office," he said. "We scan papers, send the original to Harrisburg and keep the electronic copy."

He said the prothonotary's office handles about 30,000 court papers a year. Those include divorces, child custody papers and appeals, as well as litigation papers when one party sues another in civil court.

"I will be a full-time office holder," Mr. Powers said. "I've stopped in the prothonotary's office and the current prothonotary is rarely there."

Both candidates plan to meet as many voters as possible in the next few weeks.

"The most effective campaigning is meeting people, so I've been going door-to-door, mostly in Hempfield so far, on weekends," Mr. Stepanovich said. "But I plan to get to all parts of the county. People really appreciate it when you go talk to them in their homes."

Mr. Powers said he will campaign the same way he did for Mr. Smith and for Ms. Ward.

"We'll be knocking on doors, and we'll be making phone calls and using mailers," he said.

Other races

Here are the other Westmoreland County row offices that are up for election this year.

• District attorney: Incumbent Democrat John Peck of New Kensington is seeking a fifth term. Attorney Peter Borghetti of Murrysville is seeking the GOP nod.

• Coroner: Incumbent Ken Bacha of Greensburg, a Democrat, is seeking re-election to a fourth term. Christopher O'Leath of New Kensington is running on the Republican ballot.

• Clerk of Courts: Incumbent Bryan Kline of Penn Township, a Republican, is seeking a second term. Dan Blissman of Hempfield, who is the current jury commissioner, is seeking the Democratic nod to oppose him.

County commissioners voted to eliminate the part-time positions of Democratic and Republican jury commissioners last year, so the post is not on the May 21 ballot. However, the state Supreme Court in March overturned that county action, which 41 other counties approved, as well. And a state judge ruled last week the position will not be on the primary ballot.

Mr. Blissman and GOP Jury Commissioner Debbie Irwin will hold the positions until the end of the year.

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Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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