GREEN COVE SPRINGS – March is Women’s History Month and Clay County is home to Tara Green, the county’s first woman clerk of court, and the woman behind the POW/MIA flags ubiquitous throughout …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – March is Women’s History Month and Clay County is home to Tara Green, the county’s first woman clerk of court, and the woman behind the POW/MIA flags ubiquitous throughout the nation.
Green was elected the Clay County Clerk of Court in 2012, but it wasn’t until she was sworn in that she realized she had secured a unique spot in county history books – she was the first woman in county history to be elected to that position. Now in her second term with six years total served, she remains honored to hold that title.
“I honestly didn’t realize it when I actually won the election but when I got sworn in, somebody actually mentioned it to me and I took a step back and said, ‘Well, I guess I am,’ and it’s very much an honor,” Green said. “It was an honor then and it’s been an honor every day since.”
Shortly after that realization, Green said when she came into office with 21 other new clerks, most of them were females and each year, the previously male-dominated political environment grows to be more equal between men and women. According to Green, that’s for the better, too.
“It evens the playing field,” Green said. “From a biased perspective, as a woman, I think we bring a different level of compassion and understanding to the title. In the clerk world, there are a lot of personal matters that come through the courthouse and, not that men aren’t compassionate, but when you have a role as a mother, a wife, a caretaker, which normally skews female, there grows to be a bit more understanding of what the people that come through here go through on a day-to-day basis.
“So, you’re able to leverage that with the public and you know, women by nature, for the most part, are the caretakers as it is so to be a caretaker and be in public services, it’s a win-win.”
As Clerk of Court, Green and her staff juggle hundreds of tasks but what each task boils down to can be simplified into two words: public service.
“There are thousands of services that we provide to the constituents of Clay County, but at the root of it all, our job is to alleviate any stress, any misunderstanding and any concern [with the justice system] as much as we can and provide guidance to individuals to get them solutions that they need,” Green said. “We are truly public servants.”
Green’s staff is not only willing to help anyone in any way they can with the county justice system, she’s also actively searching for new ways to not only make the court system less intimidating, but more inviting, more efficient and above all of that, more helpful.
Some of the things she’s done so far include Low Bono, which allows those in need to receive legal counseling for $1 an hour. She’s also implemented a payment system that helps those in financial need pay off fines and fees over time, rather than all at once. This has specifically made a large impact on the number of driver licenses suspended or revoked.
For example, if someone has a fine to pay but can’t pay it on time, before Green’s payment plan implementation, that person would likely lose their license. Now, because this person still needs to pay the fine eventually, they might drive to work despite having lost access to their driver’s license. Then, that person gets pulled over and because they’re driving without a license, accrues even more fines and like a snowball, the cycle continues.
The payment plan alleviates the stress that can accumulate in situations like that and as a result, less licenses are being taken away in these situations and more fines are being paid off.
As Green continues forward in her office, she hopes to continue her efficacy while making some of the most important women in her life, like her mother, proud.
When Green leaves work each day, she passes through the rotunda that every person entering or leaving the courthouse passes through and for the entirety of March, Green has seen the same POW/MIA display seen by the public.
Orange Park resident Mary Hoff heard from her Navy pilot husband, Michael Hoff, for the last time in 1970 when, during the Vietnam War, his plane was shot down over Laos. Hoff spent the next days, weeks, months and, eventually, years speculating the fate of her husband. Had he survived the crash? Had he been captured? She didn’t have an answer and neither did the Navy.
That same year, as a member of the League of Cities, Hoff recognized the need to craft a symbol for those, like her husband, who had been captured or gone missing, fate unknown.
“So, in 1971, [Hoff] read a story about this flag manufacturer [Annin and Co.] in the Florida Times-Union and she contacted that company about making a flag for her,” Clay County Archivist Vishi Garig said. “She persuaded the company to make the flag and then she had graphic designer Newt Heisley come up with a design.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want a lot of colors,’” Hoff is reported as saying. “I had seen a picture of one of those POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas and because of that, I said, ‘We need a stark, black-and-white flag.’”
The POW/MIA symbol of a silhouetted person with a watchtower behind them ubiquitous with prisoners of war and those missing in action is the design Heisley created.
Hoff spent the next 45 years of her life wondering if she was a bride or a widow before she died on November 10, 2015.
“As fate would have it, oddly enough or spookily enough or however you want to look at it, [Hoff] died on Veteran’s Day and in her death, was able to celebrate that day with her veteran,” Garig said.