Longtime Westmoreland political figure Blissman challenges Clerk of Courts Kline
Four years ago, Democrats held every row office seat in Westmoreland County, as well as a majority on the county's Board of Commissioners.
Then Republican Bryan Kline, an unknown political novice from Penn Township, won a surprise victory over a long-term Democratic incumbent clerk of courts.
Republicans seeking courthouse offices haven't lost since.
Next month, Kline, 32, is seeking his second four-year term in a run for the office that oversees all criminal court records. He will take on Democrat Dan Blissman, who for the last four years has served as one of two elected jury commissioners.
Kline said he wants to continue programs he implemented to improve collections of court costs, fines and restitution to victims.
“We're working hard, fighting for hard-working taxpayers and defending the rights of crime victims. My feeling is I'm the only qualified candidate in this race,” Kline said.
When he took office, the clerk of courts collected $4.5 million annually from criminal defendants. Last year, the office collected $5.4 million. This year, the office is on pace to top $6 million, he said.
Kline, who previously worked as a social services caseworker, said that under his watch, the office instituted new collection procedures, convened monthly administrative hearings for defendants who are in arrears and instituted a program to collect money from inmates in the Westmoreland County Prison.
Improving collections will remain a goal of the office, he said.
“Taxpayers front the money to run the court system, and it needs to be recouped. The victims also need to be whole again,” Kline said.
Blissman, 64, of Hempfield has been around Westmoreland County political circles for years and was a director on the Democratic Committee.
He is finishing a four-year stint on the county's jury commission, an elected position that will be eliminated after this year.
Blissman, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and has worked as culinary instructor at Connellsville Area High School, said his political experience should win him favor among voters.
“I enjoy serving the public, and I think I can do a better job,” he said.
Blissman said he wants to cut the clerk's budget, improve restitution collections and extend the hours the office operates.
“I am a no-frills man. There will be cuts, maybe staffing. I will try to recover as much as we can for the victims of crimes by whatever means I can do it,” Blissman said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.