Steps taken on jury selection, more help for county administrator

Steps taken on jury selection, more help for county administrator

URBANA — County board members gave preliminary approval Tuesday night to a plan aimed at improving jury-duty participation in Champaign County, and at a reduced cost.

Also Tuesday, the board agreed to take the first step toward hiring a deputy county administrator to assist Administrator Deb Busey. Because of budget cuts, the county has operated with just one administrator since 2009. In nearby comparable counties with the same structure, each one has an administrator with at least one deputy, and one has the equivalent of five, according to a memo from Busey.

The soonest the deputy would be hired, she said, would be in September.

Some board members suggested the deputy administrator chosen could eventually succeed Busey.

"I think Ms. Busey, knowing her for the 10 years that I have been here, is a wealth of knowledge and somebody needs to soak all of that in," said Rantoul area Republican Stan James.

"We know Ms. Busey isn't going to be here indefinitely," said Urbana Democrat Chris Alix, "and one of the things I'm concerned about is that she have more time available to focus on documenting her responsibilities and transition planning as we look forward to what we're going to need to do to ultimately replace her. I want to stress that this is not an effort to replace her. This is an effort to bring on a second person beside her, preferably someone with a strong finance concentration."

"The board will be tasking our county administrator with considerable responsibility in that she could be selecting her successor," said Mahomet Republican Gary Maxwell. "I believe employing a deputy administrator is warranted."

"I can say from my four months of working with Deb that there are two positions that she is doing," said Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry. "She is being effectively the chief executive of this county and she's also being the chief financial officer. And both of those things are pretty big jobs and both of them require more than one person to do."

The draft job description for the position calls for someone with a minimum four-year degree in finance, public or business administration or a closely related field, preferably supplemented with a master's degree in public or business administration or with a CPA. The applicant also should have responsible public- or private-sector management experience or an equivalent combination of education and experience.

Meanwhile, the board, meeting as a committee of the whole, approved Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman's proposal to upgrade the county's jury-selection system so that jury questionnaires would be mailed out by postcard instead of paper. Responses to the postcards could then be made either online or by phone. Those who want to respond to a written questionnaire could continue to do so, Blakeman said.

The changes would save the county a minimum of $5,000 a year in postage and printing, plus $2,000 in labor costs. They also would save the county about $7,000 annually by eliminating the need for clerks to scan paper questionnaires, Blakeman said.

It also would likely improve the county's response rate to jury questionnaires, she said. The county's rate is unusually low, she said, because of the transient population.

In March, more than 53 percent of questionnaires sent out by the county were unreturned or unusable.

In counties that have implemented the proposed system, she said response rates are around 70 percent.

"We're hoping for at least a 10 percent increase," Blakeman said.

The new system also includes a program that would allow the county to send a text or an email to remind jurors when they are to appear in court.

The $44,000 cost of the program would be covered by a balance in the document-storage fund that would be loaned to the court-automation fund. The loan is to be repaid next year.

Also Tuesday, the board approved a recommendation that, effective Dec. 1, 2013, the salary schedules for non-bargaining-unit employees be increased by 2 percent. The change would cost the county's general corporate fund about $140,000 in fiscal year 2014. Salary schedules have not been adjusted since Dec. 1, 2008, according to Busey.

The board also approved the appointment of Dianne G. Hays of Champaign to a Republican position on the Champaign County Board of Review, for a term beginning June 2013 and ending May 2015. Hays has been a real-estate appraiser in central Illinois for 32 years. She was chosen by county board Chairman Alan Kurtz from among three applicants.

The board also appointed former county board member Jennifer Putman of Urbana to a three-year term on the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District board. Putman, who has been on the three-member board since February 2011, was the only applicant for the position.

Four board members, all Republicans, were absent from the meeting: Stan Harper, Jeff Kibler, Max Mitchell and Jon Schroeder.

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