It’s the stuff of which Arlington political conspiracy theories are born: A local elected official hires a former elected official as one of his deputies.
Could that mean there’s a succession plan in the works for the office of Clerk of the Circuit?
Nope, says the incumbent. It was just a case of getting the right person for the job.
Former School Board member Nancy Van Doren in February started work as one of a number of deputy clerks under Clerk of the Court Paul Ferguson, with her bailiwick the land-records division and its staff of five.
To those with inquiring minds, that led to speculation that Ferguson – who served on the County Board before being elected clerk in 2007 – might be preparing for a departure when his current term expires at the end of 2023.
That’s not the plan, Ferguson told the Sun Gazette. He said he “definitely” is expecting to seek re-election.
“I can’t think of anything else that’s on the horizons,” he said.
The arrival of Van Doren, who served six years on the School Board before declining to seek re-election in 2020, was based on her past management experience, Ferguson said.
As to her performance thus far? “The feedback I get . . . has all been positive,” Ferguson said, praising Van Doren’s “great work ethic” and “strong attention to detail.”
Maintaining land records is a key component of his responsibilities, and, “for the average person, this would be the reason to interact with the clerk’s office,” Ferguson said.
For her part, Van Doren said she was happy to be part of the team.
“I am thrilled to be here, have had a steep three-month learning curve, and am impressed mightily by everyone I work with – and love it!” she told the Sun Gazette. “It is an excellent use of my management/business skills.”
Back on the political front, Ferguson said that he was happy to announce he expected to run for a new term, even if he had to do it two years early to quell rumors.
“I’m concerned about people talking about me in the past tense,” he said with a laugh.
While he was an outsider to the clerk’s office when first elected, Ferguson was close to the previous clerk, David Bell, who spent decades in office, and had Bell’s blessing to make the run. He defeated Republican Mark Kelly in the 2007 race and was unopposed in 2015.
(Clerks of court in Virginia have eight-year terms, some of the longest in the nation. There are a number of historical reasons for it; one is that the Byrd political machine, dominant in Virginia from the 1930s to the 1960s, traditionally installed one of its acolytes in clerk positions across Virginia to keep an eye on the political situation in each community. Other elected officials came and went, but clerks tended to be eternal.)
Assuming there is no change and Ferguson seeks (and wins) re-election in 2023, a succession plan could gel in subsequent years. That was the case for longtime Treasurer Frank O’Leary, whose chief deputy – Carla de la Pava – was appointed No. 2 in 2008 and succeeded O’Leary in 2014.
For now, it’s business as usual, and “I’m very happy with the team,” said Ferguson, whose suzerainty also includes the city of Falls Church.