Sinnen is sinning
Takes campaign contribution from software contractor collecting fees for clerk's office from public to view public records on Internet

Clerk of Court candidate Tina Sinnen, and current deputy clerk of court,  was in opponents' sights during a joint campaign appearance before the Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliance.

  • She took a $6,000 contribution from a contractor hired by her office to build the computer system that allows taxpayers Internet access to public records.

  • She supports a 50-cents a page viewing fee of public records

  • She supports a $100/mo. fee for unlimited access for commercial users

  • She supports a $3/transaction technology fee

  • She justifies charging the public for viewing records already paid for on the grounds it's allowed by the General Assembly

  • She only has a high school education to justify the $114,500/yr. top job she's seeking

Why does she want to continue to charge the public to view records through a system already paid for by the taxpayers?  "The primary reason," she told VNS, "is to keep nosey people from going online and viewing records of their neighbors."

That comment caused a member of the taxpayer group to state:  "Since when is it the clerk's job to keep the public from seeing public records?"

Candidate Walter E. (Wally) Erb, a manpower specialist with Lockheed Martin,  pointed out that is just another example of how 'taxpayer unfriendly' the clerk's office is.  Sinnen acknowledged there is no way she can stop a person from seeing the same information if they physically go to the clerk's office.  She noted, however, they would be inconvenienced by having to drive down, find a parking place, go through security, and then look up the information. The user fee, she said, "will keep the nosey Nellies offline."

"My opposition to the charge," Erb said, "is basically explained to the electorate as unfair to users and taxpayers, but the true underlying issues are a bit complicated and go much deeper; it has to do with truth and ethics."

Both he and candidate Eric Schmudde agreed that if elected, there will be no user fee for public Internet access to the taxpayers' records. Erb said, "The purpose of incorporating technology in government is to benefit the taxpayer; not penalize them. Public records are just that - public. A viewing charge circumvents free access and discourages viewing."

Erb also questioned the ethics of Sinnen taking campaign contributions from the computer contractor.  She explained that the contract was finished and she and the contractor were friends.  She didn't see anything wrong with taking the $6,000 campaign donation - the 2nd largest she received.  The largest was $25,000 from her mother.

Schmudde, who holds 2 college degrees including a masters in business administration vs. SINen's high school diploma,  said that although the contract was finished, the contractor is still being paid by the clerk's office to collect the user fees.  Still Sinnen defended taking the money.

However, after she was interviewed by the Virginian-Pilot's editorial board, and it was pointed out that the donation didn't look good, she agreed and said she was giving it back with a request that it be donated to a charity. 

She then was given the Pilot's glowing editorial endorsement for the job.  The Pilot made buffoons of Erb and Schmudde in Sinnen editorial endorsement. Said the Pilot:  They were stupid and didn't know the law and Sinnen had worked in the office for 12 years and knew it all (although before the VBTA, she acknowledged that after 12 years there was a lot she didn't know about operation of the clerk's office).

But just a day after the glowing endorsement, the Pilot had to run a correction on its editorial:  The Pilot was lazy and stupid:  It took Sinnen's words without verifying her facts about the technology fee.  Sinnen had told them that the General Assembly act allowed the $3 technology fee for filing documents would expire in 2005.  Erb and Schmudde knew the fee would be collected through 2008.

The Pilot acknowledged Sinnen was wrong and the other candidates were right, but they didn't change their endorsement of the less qualified and ethically questionable Sinnen, Erb said.

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