By Ghost of John Brown -
Irregardless of what County you are in, most likely you will have a vote this Spring for your Circuit Court Clerk. Probably like me, you have no idea what the Circuit Court Clerk's office is all about. The advantage of being in my position is that I can set up an interview with a candidate and find out more about the office. It turns out that the Circuit Court Clerk is a very important office, whether you are involved in legal matters or not. The Kane County FY 2012 budget for the General Fund is roughly $73 million. Of that, $7.6 million goes to the Circuit Court Clerk, or over 10% of the budget (see page 86 of the link). In order to understand the office better, I sat down with one of the candidates, Cathy Hurlbut to get her perspective on the office. The interview is below the fold. Because of the length, Part 2 will be tomorrow.
Ghost of John Brown (GJB): Cathy, thanks a lot for agreeing to sit down and talk with the readers of Illinois Review, I appreciate your time. I understand that you are running for Kane County Circuit Court Clerk and I think like myself a lot of people probably look at the Circuit Clerk’s office and just wonder what the heck it is. So I was hoping you could start off by giving us a brief overview of what the Circuit Clerk’s Office is really about.
Cathy Hurlbut (CH): The Circuit Clerk’s real function is to keep the paperwork of the Court. The Circuit Clerk is actually commissioned by the Governor but is elected locally in the County and is funded by the County and local fees. The Circuit Clerk basically collects all the documents whether it be your filing if you had a case, your traffic ticket funds, all of the transcripts from the different courtrooms. They’re the keeper of those records. They also provide all of the judiciary with their clerks in their courtrooms so they can collect those records. They do things, though, in addition to that like collecting child support judgments – amounts that are then transferred to individuals. They are required to report all of that, so they are required to keep track of the funds and report to the State those funds whether it be for child support or traffic tickets and so on down the line. They supply reports to the judiciary and other judiciary functions, not just the judges but the State’s Attorney, the Public Defender the Sheriff, all of these offices along with their ancillary offices all receive information and provide information through the Circuit Clerk’s office.
GJB: So the Circuit Clerk’s Office is involved in quite a few things, throughout a lot of different facets of County government.
CH: The Circuit Clerk’s role is very broad, and if you look at the Statute, which I have here, it’s a 100+ sections of information that the Circuit Clerk is responsible for either following or providing. So, it’s a pretty broad based office.
GJB: How large is the office in terms of personnel?
CH: As of last fall there were 115 employees in the office. The Circuit Clerk believes that she needs about 122 people at this time and she has authority or funds available for 122 employees, plus one for the new judicial position, if it’s necessary.
GJB: And how large is the annual budget?
CH: The annual budget is made up of two components. There’s a lot of fees that are collected in the Circuit Clerk’s Office that actually go to the operation of the Circuit Clerk’s Office and about $3.7 million of budgeted amount comes from those special funds or funds collected from traffic tickets, civil filings, child support and so forth. In addition to that they get about $4.2 million from the taxpayer. So, $4.2 million comes through the County Board which is taxpayer’s funds whether it be sales tax, property tax or other fees. So the total budget is about $8 million.
GJB: What is your background Cathy and why do you feel the desire to run for the Circuit Clerk?
CH: Well, as a professional, I’m an attorney. I’ve been doing real estate, corporate and litigation work since 1985. But, I’ve also been on the County Board since 1994. When I came onto the County Board, the first thing I wanted to do was get involved in finance and I was appointed to the Finance Committee. Two years later, I was the Finance Chairman and I served as the Finance Chairman for about four years. From there I have been Chairman of Administration which in part involves the Courts and then Chairman of Development and now I am Chairman of Transportation so I have a broad based County background. I’ve also been Vice Chairman for six years; two years under the previous Chairman and four years under the current Chairman. So I have a background in County government and I have a knowledge about how things operate. During that total time one of the things that I watched were elected officials offices. So as Finance Chairman and after I was Finance Chairman being involved in County finances, I’ve always tried to watch and work with the elected officials because their budgets make up the grand portion of the amount of taxpayer money that we have and spend. So, County government itself spends maybe 18-20% including services provide to other offices of your tax dollars, but your elected officials spend the rest. So, their spending has a great effect on the County budget. In the last eight years I’ve tried to work with the Circuit Clerk’s office and their spending because their spending has been difficult to keep under control.
About four years ago, I realized that this is an office that I would really like to get into and restructure so that the taxpayers are getting everything that they should from the office for the dollars that their spending. So this kind of started four years ago and Debbie (Seyller) decided not to run this last go around and so I felt it was a good time for me to step in and run for the office.
GJB: I was kind of amazed looking at the budget. There are some pie charts in the budget that show various departments and just how large the pie chart is for some of the elected officials versus what the County Board kind of has some control over.
I know you brought up the current Circuit Clerk and I know there has been a lot of discussion both within the Board and in the newspapers about the lawsuit between the Circuit Clerk and the County Board. I know you said you have been on the County Board for a number of years and I know you have been involved in the ongoing issues. Can you give our readers just a brief overview of what those issues have been over the last couple of years?
CH: From the County Board’s perspective on these issues, there have been a lot of things that have kind of been bubbling underneath the surface. We have something called the Internal Controls Statute in Illinois, which means that once we hand an elected official a budget, they can spend the budget any way they choose. So we can’t go line item by line item and say you can spend $10,000 for paper and $15,000 for stamps. We say here’s your $4.2 million from our funds and you can spend them as you choose. With regards to special funds each one of those is governed separately. Sometimes with regards to the Circuit Clerk’s office that requires judiciary approval sometimes County Board approval, sometimes both. So, what happened in the Circuit Clerk’s office was she decided with her special funds that she didn’t want to spend them any longer for the items that we felt she should use them for, that she wanted the taxpayers to make up $555,000 of that money. So let’s take it out of coming from my special funds and let’s have the taxpayer through the County Board fund $555,000 of my office. Which basically gave her an additional $555,000 to spend as she chose under Internal Controls.
We argued that in fact it was proper to spend that $555,000 from the money she takes in from her own revenue or special funds. She disagreed. We argued about it for about 10 months including statements from her that she was illegally spending her special funds, that she wasn’t allowed to spend her special funds, that what we were requesting from her wasn’t proper. Finally, it got to a point where we weren’t getting anywhere. We had each drawn a line in the sand and nobody was going to cross their line. The only way that was going to get settled, it appeared to be, was if she filed a court action, which she chose to do. In that court action they defined the special funds and how they could be used. They in fact found that the County Board’s request for their use of special funds was proper and that she could spend that $555,000 from her special funds, which basically gave us a little bit better definition of Internal Control which helps us with other elected officials and with her specific special funds and who could spend those special funds and how they could be authorized. So, in the end it was maybe a little bit expensive if you look at it in the basis of $555,000 versus $460,000 in attorney’s fees, there’s no getting around it cost us money, but you have to understand as well that while this litigation was going she requested another $555,000 the following year and this year she requested $1,045,000 in additional funds, so you are really looking at a total request of $2 million, which that $460,000 settled and said Internal Controls doesn’t mean that you can come to the taxpayer for additional funds because you chose to do that. It means you have to properly spend the funds that you have no matter what the source.
GJB: When you mention the special funds, you’re talking about the fees that the office collects through filings and things like that?
CH: Right. Every time you file a case in a civil case, you pay for document storage, you pay for electronic filing, you pay for all these different fees and those are considered County special funds. They’re funds that don’t come from the taxpayer through the County Board; they’re funds that come directly from filing to the Circuit Clerk’s office. You also pay those fees when you have a traffic ticket and it says you have to pay fines and costs. Part of those costs are fees that go to the Circuit Clerk’s office.
Check in tomorrow for Part 2
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