Circuit Clerk candidate: Time for 21st century-type public administration

Ann Knef Oct. 27, 2008, 7:00am

Brendan Kelly

St. Clair County Circuit Clerk candidate Brendan Kelly of Swansea is running on the Democratic ticket to succeed longtime Circuit Clerk Barney Metz, who after 28 years in office, is retiring.

Kelly, a 32-year-old assistant state's attorney, faces Republican Terry Wright, 52, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Kelly recently responded to a questionnaire with the following answers:

Why are you running for Circuit Clerk?

Kelly: I have always believed in public service, our constitution, and our system of justice. And when you pursue a life of public service you have to be willing to serve where there is a need.

When it began to look like Mr. Metz could retire, I thought the Circuit Clerk's office could be a place where I could make a difference, where I could help the wheels of justice turn just a little better. I think there is also a sense out there that it's time for a new generation to begin getting involved in government at all levels including here in St. Clair County. Many people my age are looking to serve and I'm lucky to have the opportunity to do that here.

Why are you a Democrat?

Kelly: The Democratic Party to me is like your church or your family. You may not agree with everything, but they usually stand for something good, and they believe in helping one another and seeing others become the best person they can be. And I believe in a strong national security in the tradition of FDR, Truman, and JFK.

We must continue to have the best military, but our most powerful weapon is still our example as a society that values freedom, equality, and the rule of law. But basically, I believe that we do have an obligation to each other in this life, that we do not walk alone, that we are our brother's keeper. Republicans seem to have a very different view, especially now.

What qualifies you for office?

Kelly: My most significant qualification is probably my experience as an attorney, particularly as a prosecutor for the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office. The Clerk of the Circuit Court is part of the judicial branch in Illinois, so having legal skills and experience should be very helpful. Bob Haida allowed me to get a lot of experience including trying a couple murder cases this year.

But prosecuting child support cases, traffic cases, misdemeanors, DUIs, juvenile delinquency cases, drug cases, and sex offenders has also been valuable because it's enabled me to spend a great deal of time in our court rooms seeing what works well and what can work better.

The Circuit Clerk's office has a large staff and processes about $20 million a year. As an officer in the U.S. Navy, I learned how to lead large groups of men and women, how to manage a million dollar budget, how to drive diverse people towards a common goal. I think I can use some of those skills there.

I have also been lucky to get a great education. I have a bachelor's degree in government and international relations from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from St. Louis University School of Law. I have also been active in community groups and the Illinois State Bar Association.

What changes would you bring about to the operation of the Circuit Clerk's office?

Kelly: I strongly believe it's time for "Government 2.0"- a more accessible, 21st century-type of public administration. At the circuit court level thousands of redundant paper court documents are still generated when digital versions are more accessible, reliable, and simpler to e-mail.

These paper documents take up needed public space, slow down the courts, and waste tax dollars. Criminal case data required by police departments can be easily compiled and distributed electronically, replacing current mailed paper reports.

Direct deposits can nearly replace mailed paper checks for victim restitution or bond and reduce the potential risk to public funds. E-mails must replace routine intra-governmental communications still being done on paper at the county level. Ignoring new technology and relying on old paper systems is a waste of taxpayer resources- resources better spent on improving person to person customer service at the counter.

However, change must extend beyond simply reducing paperwork. Illinois court rules and requirements must be overhauled to reflect the digital age. Forms, case status, and legal service information must be more uniformly online.

As a member of the Illinois Circuit Clerks Association, I'll encourage them to increase pressure on the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts to move more rapidly to adopt paperless court processes like electronic filing, which will significantly improve the effectiveness of our justice system.

In a democratic legal system, the goal should also be that any document or information available to the public on paper should automatically available on the internet.

Have you ever held elected office before?

Kelly: Only as a non-partisan school board member.

Tell us about your career.

Kelly: I was able to afford to go to Notre Dame thanks to a Navy ROTC scholarship from Uncle Sam. My time in the Navy took me all over the world, including Central America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and many parts of the United States.

My first duty station was in the Middle East, where I learned a great deal about the Israelis, the Arabs, their history and languages, and how what happens there truly does affect the United States. I also served on a mine-hunter, the USS Heron, where I had every possible job you could imagine. It was a small crew so we all wore many hats. I was the Supply Officer, a Mine Warfare officer, the Senior Watch Officer, an Officer of the Deck, the food officer, even the "chaplain" for a short period, which my wife finds hilarious considering what a true "mouth of sailor" I had.

After the Navy I went to SLU Law, clerked for Belleville attorney Bob Becker (who was a really good guy), became a prosecutor, and got involved in politics helping Claire Prindable and Charlie Suarez.

Tell us about your family.

Kelly: My wife, Joanne Kelly, R.N., B.S.N., O.C.N., is the National Marrow Donor Program Coordinator for St. Louis University Hospital as part of their Blood and Marrow Transplant team. She also volunteers at Bethany Place and is on the Board of Directors for Project U.S. She keeps everything on the straight and narrow in our family. We have two handsome sons, Zac (10) and Owen (3). Zac attends Wolf Branch where Joanne and I met 21 years ago. Owen just started pre-school.

Who is (or has been) the most influential person in your life?

Kelly: I've had and have so many people that mentor and guide me and push me to be a better man. They all seem to give me the direction I need at just the right time. I guess that all really comes from the same source. I actually concur with my opponent on this point.

What is your opinion of Gov. Sarah Palin?

Kelly: Is she running for Circuit Clerk now? She has a lovely family, but she's probably in over her head at this point. She looked like a pretty good dancer on "Saturday Night Live."

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