URBANA — The three Democratic Party contenders for Champaign County circuit court clerk are in agreement on one major issue: The office is in need of a major change.
In that respect, they're not much different from the single Republican candidate for the office, county board member Stephanie Holderfield who had intended to challenge the 20-year incumbent clerk, Linda Frank, before Frank decided not to run for a sixth term. Frank then endorsed former state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, who withdrew from the race after a few months as a candidate.
Whoever wins next Tuesday's Democratic primary will face Holderfield in November.
"I will bring my experience, my energy and concrete plans to improve the efficiency to the circuit clerk's office," said Lori Hansen, currently the courthouse law librarian.
She said "access to justice requires access to information and information is power. I want to make that power more easily accessible to people who use the courthouse."
Evelyn Underwood, a former Urbana school board member, said she had talked to "a lot of people who haven't had a very good experience with this office. One thing I want to assure the public is that when elected I plan to ensure that in their experience with the office they will receive respect. I don't care if they're from the urban or the rural areas because justice is important and it's important for the public to see justice."
Barbara Wysocki, a former chair of the Champaign County Board, said that in running for the office, "I've listened to a lot of people, none of whom had anything good to say about the operation of the circuit clerk's office.
"Lawyers say documents are missing, misnumbered or not available electronically when cases are called," Wysocki said. "Employees say they are not properly trained to accept and process files, or are randomly moved around without cross training, and have no input into daily business procedures."
Wysocki pledged "to correct these and other problems and in the process to restore integrity to the circuit clerk's office." She said she has "the desire and energy to work hard and achieve the goals of making this office a first-rate county department."
Wysocki said she would implement better fiscal management and planning in the office. She said she has been endorsed by former Judges Harold Jensen and Ann Einhorn.
Underwood told Democrats earlier this week that she was motivated to run because of "the attack on the middle class. All the rights and benefits that we Democrats fought for and won for the working class since the 1960s have started to erode, things like the attack on the eight-hour workday, overtime, pensions, Social Security and education."
She said these "important issues inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and run for office." Underwood promised to upgrade the circuit clerk's office "by improving client services, increasing the revenue flow and also to create a positive work environment where all workers are treated fairly and their collective-bargaining rights are respected."
Hansen said she already is familiar with the office's Jano computer software system which she asserted is not being used to its full capabilities. She also said she would require cross training of employees and likely would reorganize the office.
"I want to give the information and the power to the people who use the circuit clerk's office," she said. "If that means putting computer stations in the lobby so that patrons can print out forms to use in court, or if it means taking some of the money I will save by implementing the technological upgrades that are already available and putting that toward a help desk in the courthouse so it won't close ... then that is what I will do."