In his first full year as St. Clair County Circuit Clerk, Brendan Kelly has made vast improvements to an office that keeps records of all court filings, serves hundreds of thousands of customers annually and manages $4 million in fees and fines.
While it may not be the most significant upgrade, the fact that office personnel in 2009 were given e-mail access signaled a vital transformation for a department that deals with a heavy volume of traffic -- both in person and over the phone.
This year alone, 95,000 civil and criminal court cases have been filed in St. Clair County, all of which are recorded in the Circuit Clerk's office.
Since he was sworn in last December, Kelly has implemented numerous electronic advancements, which ultimately make operations more efficient, and better serve the public. Among them:
Kelly said that anecdotal evidence suggests that some of these changes have resulted in fewer phone calls into the office, and perhaps reduced foot traffic.
Another new improvement on the way is a complete overhaul and upgrade of the civil court case management system to include a digital filing system. Scanners are currently being installed and workers are being trained to adapt to a paperless method of record keeping. By mid-February, case information and dockets will be searchable online.
Kelly said that documents file stamped after Jan. 1 will be scanned. Older files will gradually be scanned and stored electronically.
A former St. Clair County assistant state's attorney and veteran of the U.S. Navy, Kelly succeeded longtime Circuit Clerk Barney Metz in December 2008. Kelly is a Democrat.
Early into his term, he made security of public funds a priority in an office where records had been mishandled and money stolen under the previous administration. In 2009, the addition of security cameras, a separate child support safe, digital key lock box for all office keys, file vault security counter, written access policies and lower cash maximums together help to enhance the safekeeping of cash and records.
Another example of good public service implemented by Kelly was training six deputy clerks to answer questions for customers unable to afford an attorney. These clerks can answer questions about court forms, legal references, and online legal assistance for specific legal fields in the St. Clair County Law Library.
The program was introduced in response to a steady increase in small claims, mortgage foreclosures, evictions and child support cases, Kelly said earlier in the year.
"It has always bothered me that we couldn't do more for people who don't have the money for a lawyer," he said in March. "Now that my clerks have been given the proper ethical training by Illinois Legal Aid attorneys, we can give some direction to those people, especially in cases that are resulting from the terrible economy."
The Circuit Clerk's office, like most other county departments, is adapting to lean economic times by reducing its 2010 budget by around 10 percent.
Before he took office, Kelly said his mission was to bring the office into the 21st century.
For the above reasons, as well as how he characterizes the meaning of public trust -- "Do what you say you're going to do," Brendan Kelly is the Record's 2009 Person of the Year.