2012 election candidate questionnaire: Barbara Wysocki, Champaign County circuit clerk
108 W. Holmes, Urbana
Date of Birth: 9/22/43
Education: B.A. Alverno College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
M.A. St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri
1. Now that you have had time to analyze the office of circuit clerk, do you think any changes are needed in its staffing and administration?
Anecdotal information suggests that even small changes might well address some of the concerns I've heard about over the past months. Employees, working in the same office, seem to not have a sense of what the circuit clerk's office is about, what others in the office do, let alone what others in the courthouse do. Building a staff identity through regular meetings would go a long way toward creating a more cohesive unit which takes pride in their work. Employees might then be able to offer suggestions and ideas about how the unit can work more effectively.
Before making any staff changes, I would do an assessment of current staffing arrangements. (There are free/inexpensive services that will do this with local governments.) I would also observe the interactions between staff members, staff and supervisors, staff and the public, note the flow of office work both within and among court departments, and take in other dynamics before settling on changes. It is reasonable to anticipate that some work assignments will change, and as circuit clerk I would support those affected by providing the training that matches their work responsibilities.
The circuit clerk, as an elected official, should be more visible in the community. Promoting the services of the office, explaining court operations, encouraging civic responsibility such as jury service, participating in guided tours of the courthouse, seeking public input are all helpful in connecting the court system and the larger community.
The circuit clerk should be engaged and involved in the current discussions regarding the future of the county jail. The circuit clerk ought to be engaged in efforts to diversify the jury pool. The circuit clerk ought to revive the monthly practice of meetings between judicial department heads.
2. What is the state of the office staff morale? Is it better or worse than any other large government office?
Morale is always a serious consideration and priority in any work environment. For some time, the circuit clerk's office seems to have had a high turnover rate which to me is indicative of employees not being valued and appreciated. Acquaintances and strangers who approach me to talk about their experience with the office volunteer uniformly negative information about problems with working conditions in the office and with the services it provides. What I am hearing volunteered — without my soliciting and prompting — is a worrisome high level of complaint about a negative office culture and erratic service.
Certainly, an upbeat, positive attitude is difficult right now as employees try to envision new leadership, anticipate changes and yet work under an existing administration. Morale has a profound effect on the efficiency and productivity of the office staff, the manner in which they serve the public, the attorneys, the judges, and the entire courthouse staff.
3. What in your background makes you well-qualified to run an administrative office to the courts?
In general I have long experience working with people. I have demonstrated many times in different contexts that I am a competent administrator.
During most of my teaching career, I was an academic departmental head. In that capacity, and as an interim principal, I was responsible for evaluating staff, setting short and long term goals, creating budgets, working with other department heads in developing curriculum, and, in general, representing the school to the public and alums.
As county board chair, I had an opportunity to work with judicial department heads in discerning the move to continuous juries and adopting Jano — assessing the impact not only in terms of expediting justice but in determining the financial impact on the entire county budget. As board chair and committee chair, I annually evaluated co-administrators and appointed department heads which entailed not only assessing their performance but assisting them in establishing short and long term goals. As county board chair, I worked to fashion a bipartisan approach to problem-solving, introducing new ideas and approaches, ensuring that all perspectives had a fair and reasonable hearing.
4. How well-acquainted are you with the Illinois courts system and the local circuit judges?
The circuit clerk's office actually answers to two important entities. On the one hand, it is a county office that is responsible to the county board for some funding, county contracts, etc. On the other hand the office is responsible to the Illinois courts system through the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts system. It too regulates much of the work, procedures, and fees implemented by the circuit clerk's office.
I am acquainted with the elected circuit judges who serve Champaign County. While county board chair, I worked with Judge Difanis in implementing continuous juries in the county. I greatly admire Judge Ford's work with drug court and, more recently, in establishing a mental health court. I make a point of attending drug court graduations, celebrating the successes of these alternatives to incarceration and those who devote themselves to it.
5. Have you visited other circuit clerk's offices in Illinois to see how they are run? If so, did that visit generate any ideas or recommendations for change in Champaign County?
Since the primary election, I have made an effort to contact and/or visit other circuit clerk offices. I was most impressed by Sangamon County which is comparable in size to Champaign, is alike in that the community has a university population, and operates with the same technology system as we do.
I definitely came away with ideas that I would not hesitate to introduce to employees and other judicial officers.
6. What are the biggest problems with the circuit clerk's office today? Is/are those problem(s) easily remedied?
As discussed earlier, employee morale is a concern. Solving other matters can be undertaken as the staff and I come to know each other and honest communication flows in both directions. Updating office procedures — including establishing a formal investment policy, better utilizing Jano technology, developing on-line services for the convenience of public and staff — are all challenges that can/should be addressed.
The Circuit Clerk should also negotiate a mutual agreement with the archives regarding document storage and preserving items of county history. The circuit clerk should also initiate a permanent solution to funding the help desk and the services of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance.
7. Why are you better qualified than your opponent to make those changes?
My 12 years on the county board have taught me to know and understand how local government works. I am experienced in collective bargaining from both sides of the table. I know a number of past and present employees, department heads, and community agency heads, some of whom depend on the circuit clerk's office for timely distribution of funds. More importantly, I have their confidence and cooperation in being able to take on this responsibility and act in the best interest of everyone concerned.