Fauquier's clerk of the Circuit Court has been almost as constant as the foothills.

Since 1918, there have been only three clerks. And by one formulation, there have been only 14 clerks since the county was incorporated in 1759.

Tuesday's Republican primary race for the usually uncontroversial eight-year position will turn, at least partly, on what voters think of the status quo.

The institutional candidate -- and she does not object to the characterization -- is Gail H. Barb, 46, the current senior deputy clerk who has worked in the office since 1970 and has the endorsement of the retiring incumbent, William D. "Billy" Harris.

Challenging her is John Marshall Cheatwood, 42, an insurance underwriter who was trounced by Harris in 1991 when Harris ran as a Democrat and Cheatwood as a Republican.

Cheatwood often has positioned himself as an outsider, saying that Barb's tenure makes her less open to innovations that would increase the efficiency of the 11-employee office, which handles county and circuit court records, and bring it up to date.

"I think that a new face in Fauquier County government is an advantage to the county," said Cheatwood, who works at a Charlottesville firm. "It's time to shed a new light on some of these offices."

Barb, for her part, has not run from her long service in the office. Responding to the claim that she is part of the local political machine, she said: "I don't know that we have a machine. If you call efficiency and common sense a machine, then I guess it's a machine."

She has received high-profile support from the lawyers, title insurance agencies and title examiners who use the clerk's office on a daily basis. She received at least $3,925 in cash and in-kind services from these groups for her campaign, according to records dating through May 26.

Barb said her acceptance of these funds does not create a conflict of interest. "They know that they're not going to get any better treatment" than anyone else, she said.

Cheatwood, active in local Republican party politics, has tried to energize voters with claims that Barb would support the construction of an expensive, new county courthouse.

That courthouse proposal was withdrawn by the Board of Supervisors in 1997 after the Town of Warrenton said no to the idea in the face of heated opposition. Cheatwood has made heavy mention of the courthouse's price tag, $18 million by some estimates, noting that Barb said in a local newspaper interview she would support it if officials decided to build it.

But Barb has said she would not inject herself into the issue, because it is the board that determines such capital spending. "Clerks don't build courthouses," she said. "It's not my place to tell them what to do."

And that is another point on which the candidates disagree. Barb has said she would not use the office as a platform for advocacy. "I don't think it's a political office," she said.

Cheatwood, who noted that Barb joined the local Republican party in 1998, has said in earlier interviews that "this office should be used as a bully pulpit."

Gail H. Barb

Age: 46.

Community: Midland.

Years in Fauquier: 46.

Education: Graduate of Fauquier High School; certified by University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service; deputy clerk of the Circuit Court.

Occupation and work experience: Hired as an office assistant in the Fauquier County Circuit Court clerk's office in June 1971; promoted to deputy clerk, July 1, 1973; chief deputy clerk, September 1991 to present. Received Fauquier County Bar Association's Administration of Justice Award, 1992.

Political offices, civic activities: Member, Fauquier County Republican Committee; Piedmont Republican Women's Club; Virginia Court Clerks Association (participating in program planning and as a panel member of education forums).

Family: Married for 26 years to Roger D. Barb; no children.

If elected, what specific measures will you take to ensure the accuracy of -- and convenient public access to -- the increasing volume of public records for which the clerk's office is responsible?

The clerk's office began building its land records database in 1970. Because of that start using the technology available in 1970, we have built an in-house database where a 30-year search of deed records can be performed. This gives us a head start in transferring data for Internet access. Other counties anticipating Internet access are just starting to build these databases and will have to spend considerable time and money to back-file previously recorded documents into the system. Our office has received several proposals for scanning records and providing Internet access of our records, and we anticipate many more as more companies are formed to provide new technology. Because of Y2K considerations and because of the many approaches suggested to handle Internet access, I plan to proceed carefully to obtain quality technology that will preserve our records for years to come.

The Case Management System for court records is provided through the Supreme Court of Virginia. Attorneys have been able to obtain access through the Law Office Public Access System to view Fauquier County records commencing in 1988. This system also provides access to court records in other jurisdictions. The clerk's office will be guided by the state's time line in developing these records for Internet access. This approach will limit the reliance on county funds.

The clerk's office provides information to the public through the Fauquier County Web page. Currently the public can obtain information about marriage licenses and passports. A link is provided to download passport applications. We will continue to work toward providing more information on the Web page.

During my 28 years in the clerk's office, I have gained the knowledge and expertise necessary to be the next clerk of court. I have helped to make cost-effective technology changes in the clerk's office with the installation of computers, e-mail and juror information voice mail. I have helped to secure and manage grants from the Virginia State Library for the preservation and indexing of many historic documents housed in the clerk's office.

I believe my 28 years of experience, trusted leadership ability, proven managerial skills, dedication to the clerk's office and Fauquier County, and my vision to lead this office into the next century make me the best candidate.

John Marshall Cheatwood

Age: 42.

Community: Warrenton.

Years in Fauquier: 42.

Education: Academic degree, Fauquier High School; BS in business administration, 1994, Strayer University, magna cum laude; MS in business administration, 1995, Strayer University.

Occupation and work experience: I have managed a staff of 12 professionals including licensed title insurance agents, lawyers, couriers as well as their work flow and deadlines in my own title insurance business.

I have worked with the clerks' offices around the state for 25 years in the land records information and title insurance services field. I have qualified as an expert witness on land records issues in multiple jurisdictions, including Fauquier, Culpeper, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Political offices, civic activities: Rappahannock Scenic River Advisory Committee; at-large member, Fauquier County Republican Committee; former vice chairman, Fauquier County Republican Committee; former chairman, Fauquier County Young Republicans; pack committee chairman, Cub Scout Pack 1166; Warrenton United Methodist Church; former board member and current member, Fauquier Historical Society; member, Friends of Weston; former member, Warrenton Fauquier Jaycees; active in children's reading and literacy programs in schools and libraries.

Family: Wife, Sarah Hampton Massie Cheatwood; two sons, Marshall and Brooke Roberts.

If elected, what specific measures will you take to ensure the accuracy of -- and convenient public access to -- the increasing volume of public records for which the clerk's office is responsible?

In today's world, the only way government can keep up with the growth and change around us is to use the tools of technology. I believe that we can use our existing space to implement a process of practical progress and achieve the purpose of the clerk's office, which among other things is the administration of justice, while maintaining a records-management system which will provide for continual retirement of files, keep records accurate, secure and current, and reduce operating space. Providing the good service the public expects includes using the technology the public uses at work and at home. We can avoid expenses for capital improvements in the clerk's office by implementing an optical imaging system to store information, and we can digitize indices for deeds, wills, judgments, financing statements and marriage licenses. Using the new technology to store actual documents for wills, judgments and liens and real estate titles will be a part of the step forward. We can get out of the microfilm business by sending optical disks to the State Library; they can then make the microfilm for archival storage from our images. Also, efficiencies can be achieved in and throughout the county government by making access to the information they need available on their desktops. This requires a local area network (LAN) -- we do not currently have the platform for this in the clerk's office. In the future, residents will be able to check trial dates on the Web, and scheduling court dates online will be a reality. The clerk's office is responsible for the following divisions: court service, court administration, public service, land records and comptroller. All of these divisions will be improved with the addition of the latest technology and networks which will allow the employees of the clerk's office to complete their ever increasing workload while meeting the demands of the public on a day-to-day basis.