The Record asked St. Clair County Circuit Clerk candidate Brendan Kelly, a Democrat, to answer questions regarding his qualifications.
In the November 2008 general election, Kelly is hoping to succeed long-time Circuit Clerk Barney Metz, who is retiring.
Record:Tell us about your qualifications and pertinent biographical information.
Kelly: First, you have to recognize the Clerk of the Circuit Court is the guts that make the judicial branch actually work every day. It's a large office with demands from the public, judges, lawyers, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and the County government to name a few.
So, my degrees in government from Notre Dame and law from St. Louis University give me the needed educational background. Experience leading large groups in a difficult, high accountability environment during my time in the United States Navy will also be helpful.
Most importantly, my experience in the court room prosecuting cases both criminal and civil from traffic, child support, and DUIs, to juvenile, drugs, and violent crimes, gives me a good initial sense of what works and what doesn't in our circuit court.
Record: If elected St. Clair County Circuit Clerk, what would you hope to accomplish within the first three months of taking office?
Kelly: Expanding hours, updating all court forms and posting them online, implementing online traffic ticket payment, and establishing a staff training cycle covering customer service, ethics and security procedures.
Record: Would you make any staffing changes?
Kelly: I believe it's inappropriate for a candidate to make commitments about staffing before an election. There are all kinds of ethical problems in doing that. It would also be premature to make decisions about staff changes, if any, without first having spent some time in the office to see what's working and what might not be working.
My general feeling though is that there are many good people in the Circuit Clerk's office, an office which is critical to the daily effectiveness of our justice system. So when it comes to either policy or personnel, change in that office must be made in a stable way- evolution, not revolution.
Record: Following reports of mishandled records and stolen money, do you believe there is a lack of public confidence in the office right now?
Kelly: Because of a few individuals with poor judgment, there's diminished confidence in many public institutions like our government, our churches, our corporations.
But as for the Circuit Clerk's office specifically, I'm optimistic about where we are and where we are going. There's no guarantees with democracy. It's up to each generation to renew that confidence in government and I'm excited about getting to do my part as the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Record: How would you ensure the public it can be confident in your administration?
Kelly: I'll be proposing some additional security measures and data checks. More importantly though, I'm reaching out to community leaders regardless of party or where they live as I have with the 22 mayors that are supporting me.
I'll also push for innovations that improve efficiency and customer service and I'm calling upon the experience and expertise of the judges, attorneys, and clerks in our court system to find better ways to do the public's business.
Record:What is the annual budget of the Circuit Clerk's office?
Kelly: Around $2 million annually including personnel, non personnel expenses, and Title IV child support funding. Around $18 million is also collected and distributed by the office annually.
Record:How many people are employed in the Circuit Clerk's office?
Kelly: As of this year, 66.
Record:When positions become available in the office would you advertise the openings?
Kelly: How vacancies are announced will depend on the nature and demands of the position.
First of all, every elected official has a stack of applications from people looking for county jobs. There's never a lack of applicants. However, I will have clear guidelines similar in some respects to the county health department and the federal process I became familiar with during my time in the military.
Some positions can be filled by simply moving a current employee to that position, some positions require experience only found "in house," and some positions demand skills requiring a wider search.
So, barring any legal constraints I'll establish a known announcement procedure for each kind of job vacancy. The bottom line is it will be an open process where applicants will be judged on their qualifications and their ability to pass testing and background checks.
Record:What is your sharpest criticism of how the office is presently managed?
Kelly: I have no "sharp criticisms." Look, Barney Metz served his country in World War II fighting Nazis from Utah Beach to Central Europe. The people of this county have entrusted him with a public office in over two dozen elections, and he has served honorably for decades. I'm honored to have the opportunity to succeed him and frankly nothing else needs to be said.
Record:What things are going well right now in the Circuit Clerk's office?
Kelly: There are some great people in the Circuit Clerk's office who are dedicated, hardworking public servants and I'm really looking forward to working with them.
I can tell you after working in many different court rooms both civil and criminal, these clerks often train the new judges and lawyers in St. Clair County. I also admire Mr. Metz's open-door policy for the public. He's available for anyone who needs to talk to him whether he or she is the Chief Judge or someone off the street.
I'll continue that tradition because that's what being a public servant is all about.
Record: What technological improvements would you implement?
Kelly: Providing for payment of traffic tickets online, electronic filing of cases, posting of dockets and case information online, placing court forms and orders online in a "fillable" format so they can be prepared ahead of time or updated quickly, conducting the maximum number of financial transactions electronically as opposed to cash or paper check.
The sooner the whole courthouse moves to wireless computing the better. Long term we need to move to an increasingly paperless system in all courtrooms, especially the high volume traffic and child support court rooms. We could save thousands of dollars in paper and time by making some smart changes there.
Record: Would you push to employ a system such as E-Magnus so that court records would be available online?
Kelly: I'll push for any system that would work well for St. Clair County. That may be E-Magnus or it may be another system. Again, getting as much information online as possible is the goal and I'm very open to how we get there.
Record: Would you be amenable to answering public information requests without a court order or charging money for reports?
Kelly: Having an open flow of information is always the best policy. Nonetheless, the procedures, restrictions, and fees established by statute, case law, auditors, and county ordinance must be observed without exception.
But where the law allows for the Circuit Clerk to exercise discretion I'll ensure the process is the least cumbersome as possible.