By Ghost of John Brown -
Previously we ran Part 1 of our interview with Cathy Hurlbut and the discussion of the Kane County Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Kane County. Click Here for Part 1. Without further adieu, here is Part 2.
Ghost of John Brown (GJB): You mentioned the final resolution in the lawsuit, what did the Court say in terms of those special funds?
Cathy Hurlbut (CH): With regards to her special funds and the County Board funding they found that in fact the County Board was correct in that those monies could be spent from her special funds. There was an Appellate Court case that was a partial answer to the questions and that finding was exactly what I just stated, that finding was that she could use her special funds to pay for staff working in document storage or that worked in different areas those were proper under the special funds. After that, we had to come back to the courts, this only answered a part of the question. To answer the rest of the questions in her lawsuit, we then settled with her, because our main issue was these special funds. With regards to computer systems and other things, we just settled, and we settled because we were planning on doing those things anyway. The County Board had been working for two years already on this integrated judicial computer system. Basically her role and her role as included in this settlement agreement is exactly what her statutory duties are with regards to that system. So, we just put everything in writing and documented it in a settlement that yes, we are all going to play on an even playing field, this is how it’s going to go, these are the steps that we are going to take towards the computer system and the County will fund that out of our resources, which we had planned to do anyway, because again, it doesn’t just involve the Circuit Clerk’s office, it’s an integrated system that involves all the judiciary and the Sheriff’s office. So, when you hear that $12.6 million that’s not just for the Circuit Clerk’s office, that is the number one system for all of those. We don’t know what the final number will be, we don’t know what system we will end up with we have just ball parked that as if we got everything on our wish list that’s what it would cost.
GJB: As you described, the root of the issue the discrepancy between elected officials and what they can control of their department and what the County Board provides them in terms of funding. As Circuit Clerk, if you are elected, how are you going to resolve those potential conflicts such as the County has experienced over the last several years.
CH: The advantage that I have coming into the Circuit Clerk’s office is I understand County Government. I understand taxing issues, I understand levy issues, I understand how County government works and what funding is available. So, I come into it knowing what the other side is thinking, which gives me a bit of an advantage. Again the Circuit Clerk herself works with all of these other departments and we are all kind of a team so you get to use the team approach if you can work as a team. So I think when everyone’s behind a project or everyone’s behind a change it makes it a little bit easier going to the County Board and I need the funds to do this or I want to make these changes. So one of the first things that I want to do is establish that team again where all of the elected officials that are involved the judiciary work together to meet a common goal and we have kind of lost that.
GJB: The Sheriff, the Court, the County Board……
CH: The Sheriff, the Judges, the County Board, the Public Defender’s office, the State’s Attorney’s office, Court Services, all of them are involved in this picture and all of them need to have a proper Court’s system so they can work effectively. One of the ways to do that is get all of those stakeholders, as they like to say, in a room and figure out what they need. I’ve been doing that with the Committee for a while on this computer system, so I’ve already established some of those relationships. But I would take those relationships and that would help bolster any changes that I want to make within the Circuit Clerk’s office. Obviously, the Administration is going to change at County Board and the County Board Members are going to change. Nobody can predict right now exactly what that atmosphere will be, but knowing how that system works and where the money is and how it operates will give me an advantage over any of the other people running for this office in working with the County Board and understanding why they can or cannot finance and what things should and should not be financed by the County Board.
GJB: The current Circuit Court Clerk has mentioned in the newspapers and press releases that there is State mandated functions and that have led to the problems. What are some of these functions and how can the County more effectively deal with these mandates?
CH: There are two parts to this question, so let’s start with some of the functions. Some of the functions are child support; collecting child support, reporting child support and paying out child support. There’s also mandated reporting to the State of those funds and who’s paying and how’s its being paid. There are other mandated functions of reporting in the office to the State. Most of the mandated functions have to do with reporting. That’s using current staff and coming up with a good system to make sure that reporting is done on time. Her problem that she mentioned to the County Board at one point in her budget is that she could not get those reports out on time, partially because of her computer system and the fact that she has a hard time generating some of those reports, partially because she felt that she didn’t have the staff necessary to do that.
What can the County do to more effectively deal with it? Here’s our problem, it’s called Internal Control. All we can do is hand her over the money. We can’t make her do anything within that system except give her those funds. So, the County can assist with this new computer system, which we’re going to do. But with regards to the operation of the office itself, the County has no control. So, effectively, the only what that you get better efficiency within the office is to have a good manager for the office.
GJB: One of the sources of the controversy later revolved around the computer system. You’ve mentioned that a little bit here. My understanding from the newspaper accounts is that the new system may cost the County about $12.6 million. Additionally, the Circuit Clerk has been maintaining the system internally and has resisted efforts to have the County’s IT Department manage the system. What do you see as the logical way to handle that computer system visa via the other departments and the IT system?
CH: Well, initially, again I’d have to say that the $12.6 million is for the entire county and those officials that we talked about before. I think the proper place to maintain that system is with the IT Department within the County, and I have to say that I hired the County’s current IT Director years ago – Roger Fahnestock, who is a very good employee. Our IT Department is extremely well run and works with the Circuit Clerk’s IT Department when requested. Now there is some redundancy in systems that have to be kept and that redundant system should probably be kept at the Circuit Clerk’s office. The Circuit Clerk currently has very good IT people. They very much understand the system and I’ve spoken with Roger about absorbing the IT employees from the Circuit Clerk’s office into our IT offices and keeping their main IT person in the Circuit Clerk’s campus, and that would be my approach. As we put in this large system where you have so many users and so many people demanding information, the Circuit Clerk isn’t set up to do that. The IT Department is and so I would suggest to my staff immediately that we do these transfers, not lose control but that we keep our IT staff within the IT Department.
GJB: What goals do you have for the department? What are the things that you want to implement?
CH: Any good manager when they come in is going to make changes. So, what I would like to do when I get into the office is meet with staff try to determine the job descriptions; currently there are no job descriptions and then talk with staff about how they can better handle their job. What are their aspirations? Do they want to move up in the office? Are they happy with what they do? What do they think can be done better, and take that information and then go back and re-tool the office and probably change roles and change the structure. I can’t do that now. I haven’t worked in that office. I don’t know every employee, but I want to get to know the employees, and I do think there are a lot of efficiencies there that can be maintained just by talking to the office holders themselves or the employees themselves and seeing where they think we can structure differently. So I think I’d like to restructure the office. I do think there are some economies that we can obtain that will assist us with keeping our budget in line. I think there has been a lot of mis-spending in the office for computer updates and warehousing and so forth that weren’t looked at in the long term, they were immediate fixes. I’m a long term person and so we would look at more of a long term five-year kind of process of what do we think is going to need to be put replaced, how are we going to replace it, what costs do we predict in the future. Mr. Judiciary how many more judges do think that we are going to have and look at things more in the long term and not the knee-jerk, “this is what I need today.”
GJB: This would probably tie back into having the IT Department involved in the computer system. Just think about the computers being outdated and how do you deal with it, moving computers around – taking a more global perspective of it.
CH: Absolutely. Our IT Department is constantly upgrading our systems and a board that costs $200,000 10 years ago and held 3 Gigabytes of information now is $25,000 and holds Terabytes of information. You have to be able to know that that’s out there and you have to be able to keep going with that system.
GJB: Currently the Circuit Clerk’s office is located on Randall Road in the old Montgomery Ward’s building, which is about a mile away from the courthouse. I know Sheriff’s department is moving over to that same campus. Are there plans in the future to combine those offices?
CH: Understand that the Circuit Clerk’s office at one time was out at the Campana building. I was Administration Chair when we were notified that there was asbestos in that building and we had about 30-60 days to move out. That’s how we ended up at the Montgomery Ward’s building. We bought the lease out of bankruptcy on like a 30-day notice and got everyone moved in the next 30 days. Was it a temporary fix? We had hoped it would be a temporary fix, but you also have to look at the fact that funding has changed over the years. The current courthouse out at the campus was built with public building funds. We can’t get public building funds any more. So now we have to find a way to fund it through the County money. The only way you’re going to be able to fund something like that is to probably go out to referendum. The cost of building that wing is somewhere around $100 million by the time you put in the parking deck and the wing and everything else. So, reality says the Circuit Clerk’s office probably isn’t going to be moving in the near future. The benefit to us is later on we did buy out the building itself, so now we own it and it was a large building and we looked at it that way. We can house other things. We put another courtroom in there. It’s large enough to hold large traffic case management and so forth. It’s a good space. Would we like it to be all on the same campus? Would I love to have the Circuit Clerk’s office on the same campus? Absolutely, but I have to go with reality and say I don’t think that any time that I’m going to be in that office that the Circuit Clerk’s office will be moving.
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