NASHVILLE, TN — Howard Gentry, Jr. currently serves the Metropolitan Government of Nashville as the Criminal Court Clerk of Davidson County. He was appointed Criminal Court Clerk in 2011 and reelected in 2012. His office is responsible for performing the clerical duties (hard copy and electronic forms) for the operation of the General Sessions and State Trial Criminal Courts.
A Nashville native and graduate of Tennessee State University, Gentry was elected three times to countywide public office. He was a Metro Council member-at-large before being elected Metro Nashville-Davidson County’s first African American vice mayor.
Gentry told the Tribune he was proud of the fact that under his leadership the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office had, “elevated our level of service to our clients in numerous ways. First and foremost, ‘service’ is at the core of our culture. Every person that we assist matters. Their circumstances or status do not dictate the level of service that they receive from our amazing staff.”
The most visible initiative Gentry has implemented during his two-terms in the Clerk’s Office may be his aggressive efforts to reach out to individuals and assist them expunge their criminal records when possible. Criminal record can follow a person for an entire lifetime and affect employment, educational and even housing opportunities even if a criminal case does not result in a conviction.
Gentry said during his tenure as Clerk expungements in Nashville have “tripled” reaching over 30,000 annually.
“The expungement of criminal records has had an amazing affect on individuals and their families within the community,” Gentry explained. “People are able to get jobs and housing. They are able to reclaim their lives and become productive citizens. I believe the people who come through the criminal justice system and pay their debt to society deserve to live a life of dignity. The expungement process which is our Constitutional right provides people that opportunity and I will work to increase the number of expungements in the future.”
Assisting individuals move forward after a criminal conviction is only a part of the work that needs to be completed as Nashville and other urban centers deal with the affects of mass incarceration. Gentry said that although his office has no role in enforcement or sentencing, the Clerk plays a significant role in the criminal justice system.
“Mass incarceration is in many ways the result of societal injustices that have taken place over centuries. Its DNA is imbedded in laws and practices that have gone on through time and the dismantling of these injustices will be an arduous task. The Clerk plays a significant role in helping people to move beyond the spiraling effects of the criminal justice system. Although we are not able to give legal advice, through dissemination of information and proactive service, we are able to help clients navigate through the criminal justice process resulting in compliance with orders of the court. Once compliance occurs, the individual is less likely to be in a position to be victimized by the phenomena of mass incarceration.”
Under his administration, Gentry has worked to increase the public’s access to criminal records (case information, dockets and reporting, map crime viewing and arrest data) via a redesigned website.
“We are proud to have been chosen to receive the Court Technology Solutions Award presented by the National Association for Court Management as one of the top 10 court websites internationally,” Gentry told the Tribune. “This is our 2nd time winning the award since I have been in office.”
The collection of court fines and costs are a major component of the Clerk’s Office and Gentry has established an aggressive yet fair approach to this task.
“We have instituted a compliance department that assists people who owe court costs and fees,” Gentry said. “We assist in assessing an individual’s ability to pay by providing judges with documentation that helps them determine a person’s financial capacity and offer affordable payment plans for those who are unable to pay the total amount assessed. We are also able to reinstate driver licenses while people are on the payment plan.”
Gentry, the son of the famed TSU Head Football Coach by the same name has been involved in civic and charitable organizations for decades. He is the founding chair of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, and Nashville Poverty Reduction Council. He served as chair of the State of Tennessee Prayer Breakfast Committee, the Metropolitan Social Services Commission, NAACP, and United4hope. He is also a member of 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, Nashville’s Agenda, Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Music City Bowl, Nashville Sports Council and, Leadership Nashville. He has also served on the boards of the State of Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Nashville Public Television, Arts and Business Council, Fisk University, Boy Scouts of America Nashboro District, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Operation Andrew and Key Alliance.
“My life experiences prepared me for the real world. They helped me to understand the importance of fairness, integrity, honesty and the value of hard work,” Gentry said. “Some define hard work by the type of job. I was taught that working hard, no matter the job would yield success and that success was not determined by money or status. It was determined by results. Simply put, I was taught to get the job done.”
Howard Gentry’s work in business, academia and government is unparalleled.
“My business experience in banking, human resources, insurance and the Chamber of Commerce in addition to my 15 years in higher education in the areas of development, institutional advancement, technology and athletics administration prepared me for government. My experience in the criminal courts, Metro Council and as Vice Mayor uniquely prepared me for the position I now hold as Criminal Court Clerk.”
Gentry has truly transformed his agency and said he has plans to establish more breakthroughs in his next term as clerk.
“We feel we have made great strides in the clerk’s office but more work needs to be done. We will continue to collaborate with the Juvenile and Circuit Courts to provide a more efficient and effective manner of functioning. We will continue to work toward a paperless criminal court system while providing more opportunities for the public and clients to utilize our services through technology and, to be better informed about the processes involving the criminal court system. We will increase the number of expungements. We also want to become more involved with government and community stakeholders to insure equity and fairness for all in our criminal justice system.”
The primary election in Davidson County takes place Tuesday, May 1. 2018. Residents must register by April 2, 2018to be eligible to vote.