Saturday, October 18, 2008

Greene County Circuit Clerk Candidates Answer The "Life Of Jason" Questions

Life Of Jason recently asked the two candidates for Greene County Circuit Clerk, Steve Helms and Jim Lee the following series of questions. A reader thought it would be interesting to see the two men's replies side by side. The SN-L also interviewed the two candidates for a story set to appear in the Sunday issue of the Springfield News-Leader.

HELMS: Jason, I want to thank you for the questions and the opportunity to talk about the issues of this office.

LEE: First of all, Jason, thank you for presenting me with this opportunity, as I seek election to the post of Greene County Circuit Clerk, to deliver my message to the readers of LifeOfJason. I truly believe that citizens-journalists, such as you, are complimenting the mainstream media in a way that was not thought of twenty or even ten years ago. I appreciate your making this arena available to me in my run for the Circuit Clerk position.

Secondly, I feel there were two options in answering the LifeOfJason questions. Option I would have been to give you short, easy to read answers that would be little more than talking points and sound bites from a stump speech. These answers would not have any depth to them and would shed no real light on how I intend to run the Circuit Clerk’s office. Or I could answer your questions completely and accurately, with well researched answers, even if those answers took a little longer to compose and present and it took a little longer to get my answers to you. The second option is the option I chose.

This is a crucial election. I believe that, especially in this election, voters will want to have explored all avenues of information before they mark their ballot.

1. How do you define the role of the Circuit Clerk beyond the job description listed on the Greene County website?

HELMS: The primary job of Circuit Clerk involves handling and recording the documents of the courts and receipting and dispersing funds. As a businessman, I understand that the customer is king. That fact is the reason that from the very beginning my stated goal has been: Building a knowledgeable and efficient staff that provides friendly, professional customer service.

I want our customers to know that everything we do is to serve them better. I will work to eliminate needless bureaucracy and help provide better access to the courts and vital information about the courts.

LEE: The Circuit Clerk is responsible for maintaining complete and accurate records of the court, collecting, accounting for, and disbursing all monies paid into the court; and performing other duties, as necessary to assist the court in performing its duties. Some of the duties of a court clerk are: Receive, process, and maintain the judgments, rules, orders, and all other proceedings of the court.

The Circuit Clerk is also the responsible party to:
• Issue and process: summons, subpoenas, executions, garnishments, sequestrations, judgments, orders, and commitments;
• Collect and disburse all fines and costs;
• Collect and disburse other monies paid into court as ordered by the court;
• Preserve the court seal and other property of the office;
• Provide uniform case reporting;
• Assist with genealogical searches including: criminal records (excluding traffic and misdemeanors), civil (excluding orders of protection, small claims, landlord-tenant issues, and judgments less than $25,000), dissolutions, name changes, juvenile, adoptions, financial, paternity, child support, and immigration records.
In some counties, the Circuit Clerk is also responsible for summoning jurors and is the first stop for citizens who wish to obtain a passport.

By definition, the above duties are what the Circuit Clerk does. How the Circuit Clerk does the above duties is the reason we have elections.

2. Do you feel the Circuit Clerk’s office has the resources now to get the job done in the most efficient manner?

HELMS: No. According to the State’s own work-study program, our court is understaffed by 22 employees. The new state mandated software program, Justice Information System is more time consuming than the system that we previously had.

We are getting the job done for the courts, but it is not to the level that I am satisfied with, and that is why I am passionate about moving our courts forward by implementing technological improvements.

LEE: Simple answer: yes and no. The reality of the matter is that, given the current state of the economy, there appears to be little likelihood of any significant change in the financial resources available to the Circuit Clerk’s office that I am aware of. We must, therefore, utilize the available resources in a most effective and efficient manner.

Here is an example of what I mean: The Circuit Clerk’s office has around seventy employees. All of these employees should to be trained and cross trained, if they not already are, in every aspect of the clerk’s business. Everyone should know and be able to do everyone else’s job, giving every position a back-up person. Departmentalization and compartmentalization can be eliminated. If a primary clerk is absent, the back-ups can fill in the gap.

Everyone in the clerk’s office should be working towards the common goal of making the office efficient and accurate. We can do it when everyone pulls together.

3. What can be done to streamline the functions of the Circuit Clerk’s office?

HELMS: Using today’s technology, we could begin a scanning and imaging system that would save us hundreds, if not thousands of man hours. We spend a large amount of time moving paper files in and around our office, between courtrooms, and the county archives (this is because we do not have enough room to store all the files that we need in our office).

As a matter of fact, our County Archives is out of space and they are going to have to spend thousands of dollars to add on or build a larger building. With a proper scanning and imaging system, this would not be necessary for the courts.

LEE: In the October 8, 2008 edition of the Community Free Press, the current clerk said that many don’t understand that the state’s new software system is slowing down his office and “it may be a long time before things run as smoothly as they did before.” He also said that there’s a “learning curve” with the new JIS software and it could be up to two years before his office has fully adjusted

I have calls into Circuit Clerks in the St. Louis and Kansas City regions of the state. I want to ask them these questions:

• How long did it take their staff to adjust to the new software?
• Did their staff experience the same high rate of turnover the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s office is experiencing? (the current clerk states about 50% of the current staff have been at their jobs for less than one year).
• What strategies and methods did they use to speed up the learning curve and get their offices fully adjusted to the new JIS software?
• Isn’t two years a long time to adjust to a new software program?

What worked for these clerks in their offices as they made their adjustment to the new JIS software deserves to be examined fully. What worked for them may very well work for us here in Greene County as well.

I will also ask the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA), if feasible, for the budget authority to hire temporary employees to reduce the current filing backlog in the clerk’s office.

I will seek out training assistance and implement, if not already in place, continuing education programs for staff, to include full-time, part-time and temporary employees.

I will consult with and collaborate with former clerks and employees for ways to bring back efficiency and accuracy to the office.

One possibility for streamlining the office which keeps surfacing is talk of making a transition to paperless filing. This is potentially a good idea. However, before paperless filing can take effect the following items must be addressed.

A. The case files must be filed correctly. When a case file is not filed in the correct place, as has been related to me as having happened, it matters if it is a paper file or a computer file. When a file folder (a paper file) containing a case file gets filed in a wrong file drawer or wrong file section, eventually it will be found, probably. When a computer file (a paperless file) gets filed in a wrong folder, however, or a wrong file sub folder or listed with the wrong file extension, it may never be found. Anyone who has ever lost a computer file can relate to that experience.

B. Entries must be entered correctly in the JIS case files. Paper files can contain original documents, copies of documents and handwritten notes. There needs to be appropriate training on entering the information contained in these original documents as they relate to options in the JIS software. If a docket entry is made incorrectly or lacks the correct coding of the supporting documentation, it may go unnoticed until the case file is accessed next. This can cause the court proceedings relating to that file to come to a halt until the file is corrected, wasting not only the court’s time, the prosecutor’s time, the witnesses’ time, the lawyer’s time and, in extreme cases, may cause an innocent person to remain in jail until his file is correctly processed. There needs to be continuous training in this area and the training must reflect the latest updates to the software program.

4. Does political party really make a difference in terms of the Circuit Clerk? Why or why not?

HELMS: No, it is more important to have the right person. The office of Circuit Clerk is non-political in the sense that I have a job to do for the people. The Circuit Clerk doesn’t set legislative policy or agenda.

It’s exactly the same as when I sold a product or service to someone in the private sector. My concern was not on their political affiliation or mine, but whether or not my product or service took care of their need.

On a side note, there are some in the Judicial system that want to make the Circuit Clerk an appointed position. Even though I was initially appointed to this office, I am against that view. I believe that an elected official is much more accountable to the public.

LEE: This position should be filled by the most qualified person on the ballot who is seeking the post, regardless of political party.

Instead of asking what political party a candidate belongs to, the questions that I ask are these: which of the two candidates is better qualified for the position; which of the two candidates can best meet the needs of the office and the needs of the court. In the case of this election these questions also would appear to be appropriate: what is not being accomplished in the office that needs to be accomplished and how can the areas which need improvement be addressed?

5. How is continuing education important to the staff of the Circuit Clerk’s office?

HELMS: Continuing education is extremely important. One of the hallmarks of a professional is whether or not you are continually learning about your profession. Education is not a degree, it is a life long pursuit.

Because our office is working with no slack in our workload to staff ratio, it is extremely difficult to do what we need to do. I have instituted a plan that will help us in this area. Proper training is one of the ways that we can improve efficiency, and over time we will reap those rewards.

LEE: As an educator, I know full well the value of continuing education programs, especially when you realize that almost half of the current clerk’s staff have been in their jobs for less than a year. It is absolutely imperative given the importance of the record keeping that office is responsible for, that continuing education programs for the Circuit Clerk’s staff be ongoing, thorough and comprehensive.

6. In July, someone raised an issue about a poster in the Circuit Clerk’s office that made a reference to Jesus and threatened legal action. First, do you think the reaction of the citizen who threatened to sue was over-reacting and/or possibly had an agenda and second, what do you feel are the limits for a public official in expressing their personal views in the workplace and, by extension, their employees (since an employee brought in the poster and not the Circuit Clerk)?

HELMS: I believe that some are hypersensitive to any religious symbolisms in the public arena. The person that complained about the poster told me that he felt that the poster would limit people’s access to the court. I disagree.

I moved that poster to a bulletin board, not because it had any religious connotation, but because I thought it honored the men and women who died on 9-11.

Up until about 1947, the Supreme Court would have sided with me on this issue. It has only been since that time that they have moved to an extreme position of trying to force out any religious content from the public square; whether that be from a public official or a citizen.

I, like hundreds of those who called me in support of keeping this poster up, am offended that an extreme minority view is allowed to dominate our nation. I am tolerant of opposing views. I served my country in the United States Army and fought for their rights. If people want to change the Constitution and our rights, they should use the amendment procedure and quit allowing activist courts to make law by fiat.

LEE: This matter was settled when the current clerk, on the advice of his attorney, removed the poster.

The second part of the question is simple: I will follow the directives of the regulating legal authority.

7. Recently, a local publication ran a story questioning the efficiency of the Circuit Clerk’s office and the delays in processing cases. Do you feel those stories had any merit and it so what changes would you make to correct the problems raised in those stories?

HELMS: I came into this office knowing that we had challenges. This office has gone through more change in the last year than perhaps in the last ten years. We have a high case load with over 30,000 new cases filed each year.
When demand for the courts exceeds current capacity, of course you are going to have some backlog. The problem is a lack of resources in the entire Judicial system.

The question is whether my opponent could do anymore than we are already doing. The answer is no. We are conducting more training today than we have at any other time in our office. We are using every available resource to get temporary help. We are making procedural changes and aggressively moving to new technology to make us more efficient.

I have shown leadership in this office and we are getting the job done for the courts, but I am not satisfied. As a member of the Missouri Circuit Clerks Association, I have met with many of my peers and they are struggling with many of the same issues. It is wrong to just put a band-aid on the problem so we can kick the problem down the road. I want to solve these problems, and until the people understand, we won’t have the political will to do what is right.

LEE: I am not familiar with the story or stories you reference. I do know this, however: the current clerk has stated, as mentioned earlier, that half of the clerk’s staff are new employees with less than one year on the job. He told us he had to hire these new employees to replace all the long term employees who quit their jobs with the Circuit Clerk’s office because they were close to retirement age and did not want to learn a new software program.

It is my opinion that in these tough economic times we are going through, most people do not give up government jobs (which have benefits, like health insurance) because they don’t want to learn a new software program. I believe this huge turnover in staff is indicative of a deeper problem in the office that goes far beyond being unwilling or unable to learn a software program.

I work hard and I lead by example. When people see their leader working with them and learning with them, the process of developing into a team begins. The clerk’s staff will work with me, not work for me.

8. What makes you the best choice for voters on November 4th?

HELMS: December 2007, a friend asked me to consider running for Circuit Clerk because he knew that the current Clerk was going to retire and that there was a need for someone with the right skills to see that office through a challenging time. Since I valued his advice, and because he is close to the judicial system, I investigated this opportunity to serve.

After speaking with many in and around the courthouse, I spoke with my wife and prayed for wisdom. I then decided to make myself available. I was appointed to this post after my resume and experience were compared to several other capable candidates who also put their name in for this office.

That was March 1st of the this year. Since that time, I have further outlined the issues that we have to deal with. I am already taking the steps that we need to do to correct these issues. I am providing the right leadership. I am willing to work with everyone necessary to solve our problems. I don’t just talk about solutions, I am implementing them.

I ask for your vote November 4th and trust that you will give me the time to accomplish what we need to do. It is not going to take months, but years to build up the expertise in this new system and to bring the right technologies to our office. Once it is done, we will have the best courthouse in the State of Missouri.

LEE: I have over thirty-five years of professional experience in the areas of administration, management, and public relations within the business, educational and governmental communities of Missouri.

I have lived in the Ozarks since 1964. I graduated from St. Agnes High School in 1967. I am a cum laude graduate of MSU with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education. After graduating from MSU, I attended graduate school at Drury University.

I have been involved in community and school district activities. I was the treasurer of the “Better Schools for Kids” committee and received a “Star Catcher” award from the Springfield School District for my efforts in that successful campaign. I was active in the “Vote No on Amendment 7” campaign. When our children were of school age, I was a member of and supporter of the PTAs at their schools. I was a member of the Jarrett Middle School site council. I am a graduate of the Springfield “City Academy”. and I am active in the Fassnight Neighborhood Association.

As a Workforce Development Specialist for the Missouri Department of Economic Development working out of the Monett Career Center, I worked closely with courts, mental health agencies, law enforcement, educational institutions and other community service organizations. I passed an extensive state background investigation before I was hired for this merit job position.

As the Southwest Regional Coordinator for the Missouri State Teachers Association, I worked closely with teachers, administrators, superintendents, school boards in over 125 school districts in southwest Missouri. I travelled frequently to Jefferson City to meet with legislators and Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education officials. During my tenure with MSTA, membership in the SW Region increased from 3500 to over 10,000.

As a 6th grade teacher in Nixa, MO, I was part of the team that aligned the curriculum to meet Missouri School Improvement Standards (MSIP). I was a team leader for an adolescence training program and a crisis counselor for Caring Communities within the school district

After my marriage in 1973, my wife and I started a branch of her family’s business. We provided food and game attractions for county and state fairs throughout the Midwest and Canada. I directed a staff of 15-20 employees and operated a fleet of motor vehicles and trailers.

When our children reached school age, we sold our family business and my wife and I returned to school to further our education. She earned her RN degree from Burge School of Nursing and I earned my Missouri teaching certificate from Missouri State University.

I am proud that I am a United States Army veteran. I was trained to be a combat medic but served as a headquarters clerk in a hospital. I received an honorable discharge and I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

Missouri gives participants in the Missouri Public School Retirement System the opportunity to retire at age fifty-five, which I did.

Since my retirement I have been a full time property manager for our rental properties. I have made arrangements, if I am so blessed to win this election, to turn that function over to another. The Greene County Circuit Clerk’s position is a full time position and I will treat it as such.

My wife and I have been married for 35 years. Regina is a nursing supervisor for CoxHealth. We have two children: Sara, who works in the administrative offices at Cox College School of Nursing; and Jim who is a manager for Southwestern Bell Telephone/ATT. Sara and her husband Daniel live on a small farm in Lawrence County. Jim, his wife Kristin and their three children (Trey, Austin and Sophie) live next door to Regina and me.

I am also the author of “Bus Plunge,” which has consistently, since its inception, been rated as one of the top twenty political blogs in Missouri by the “blognet” rating service.

I am 59 years old.

I work hard, I work honest and I don’t try to kid anybody. With your vote and support on November 4th, I can bring dignity and respect back to the Circuit Clerk’s

At this point, if you would like to make a final statement to my readers, attach it here.

HELMS: You may go to my website at

LEE: Throughout my professional career I have received letters of commendation, letters of appreciation, letters of recommendation and letters of endorsement. Here are some excerpts:

Kent King, Executive Director, Missouri State Teachers Association
“Jim has the insight and ability to take a project from “cradle to grave.” His ability to listen is well honed and he repeatedly dealt with difficult issues, resolving them in an expedient and satisfactory manner”

Mike Wood, MSTA Director of Governmental Relations
“Jim has the ability to adapt to various situations. Thinking “outside the box” is something that he is able to do in order to successfully accomplish goals.”

Terry Bond, Curriculum Facilitator for Communication Arts, R-12 (retired M-NEA)
“I recognize Jim as an especially effective, hardworking, and deeply committed professional…I saw him lead a stale, moribund organization to renewed energy, relevance and effectiveness.”

Marc Maness, Director, Office of Community Development and Grants, R-12
“In addition to his communication and interpersonal skills, Jim has developed a well honed sense of organizational message…his ability to “stay on message” to make sure the organization or cause he represents has a clear and definable message. Jim understands that consistency in message for an organization is vital to its success.”

Senator Frank Barnitz (D-16)
“Mr. Lee is one of the nicest persons I have met. His personable character makes you at ease the moment you begin a conversation with him. He has a strong sense of self-discipline, is highly self-motivated…I most certainly recommend Mr. Lee without reservation…”

Former Senator Roseann Bentley (R-30)
“Jim has demonstrated a disciplined and positive campaign that left many people with very favorable opinions. I believe that Jim has demonstrated his abilities as a leader and a manager with financial skills and strong communications skills.”

Former Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell (MO)
“Jim and I have known each other for many years and you would be hard pressed to find another person with his experience, political sense and energy.”

Kelly Knauer, Kelly Knauer Editorial Projects, Springfield, MO
“…he is a dynamic, self-starting individual who never takes a job without throwing himself into full-throttle. Even more important, Jim is a master of the “aw shucks,” down-home approach that seems to be a prime requisite to achieving success in any endeavor in these parts. But don’t be fooled by Jim’s unassuming demeanor: he has mastered educational and social policy issues, is an articulate spokesperson…and brings energy and professionalism to his work.”

Springfield News-Leader Editorial Board
“But if ideas matter….the race will go to Jim Lee…Lee brings a focus to his discussion of issues, he sticks to the issue and what he wants to do. Lee’s approach builds confidence in those around him…” 2000 136th District State Representative newspaper endorsement.

“Our endorsement goes to Lee because of his more moderate stands…Lee generally brings the wider view in his discussion of issues. His moderate approach will work well…” 2002 138th District State Representative race newspaper endorsement.

(c) 2007, 2008 Jason Wert. All rights reserved. The author gives permission for electronic, print or broadcast media to use information from any posting ONLY if a link to this blog site is provided and printed identification of the location of the information provided or the full web address of the site,, is mentioned as the source of the information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!