Q&A Live: Candidates discuss future of Clerk of Courts office

SANDUSKY Erie County Democrats must decide March 4 whether to keep the incumbent clerk of courts, Ba
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Erie County Democrats must decide March 4 whether to keep the incumbent clerk of courts, Barbara Johnson, as the party’snominee for the job or replace her with challenger Bill Kimberlin.

The winner of the primary will face Steve Schaeffer, the Republican nominee in the November general election.

We asked both Johnson and Kimberlin to take questions from voters here at sanduskyregister.com.

 Below are the transcripts  from Tuesday night’s chat event:

Vladimir: Do you think it's OK for voters to nominate a candidate that had previous issues at another court system?

Barbara Johnson: It depends on the type of previous issues and what was the final outcome.

Bill Kimberlin: I understand how some people might be confused over what took place many years ago in the municipal court. However I have no record as the case against me and the others was dismissed. It was a learning experience and everyone has grown and moved on. So yes it is OK to vote for me.

TJ: What changes are you prepared to make as priority and when will they take effect?

Bill Kimberlin: When elected I will immediately make the following changes: remove all social security numbers from public documents; make sure all court documents are processed in a timely manner; make all court documents available on a user-friendly Web site like all other counties in the state; begin a process to collect all outstanding court costs and fees owed to taxpayers of Erie County

Barbara Johnson: The first change is to get the records online for public viewing and that will take place as soon as financing is available. In addition the collection of outstanding court fees is also a top priority and action toward that end will occur within months.

genny: Why do each of you want to be or continue as County Clerk of Courts?

Bill Kimberlin: As a life-long resident to Erie County, I have always enjoyed working with my fellow residents. I also like to utilize my education and experience and continue to serve the people of Erie County. I believe that change is necessary and I firmly believe that I am the person to bring about this change. I have the determination and commitment to do so. With your vote I can give Erie County an efficient Clerk of Courts office.

Barbara Johnson: In the first place, I love what I do, I love the job and I am experienced in all areas of the Clerk's office. I know what is needed to move the office forward and how to make it happen. The job of Clerk is a job of great responsibility and accountability. I have a staff that is able to handle all areas. Of course with additional staff the Clerk's office will be able to handle many more responsibilities. In addition to moving docket entries, we take great joy in responding to the needs of the people of Erie County. There is an Attorney General's opinion regarding redacting social security numbers which happens when copies are given out.

Votersrus: How will you go about automating court records and why hasn't it been done yet?

Barbara Johnson: It has not been done-financing is required. As soon as we find the funds, we will make it happen with the assistance of our software provider.

Bill Kimberlin: You mean putting the documents online? I don't know why it hasn't been done. Every other county in the state has documents from their clerk of courts office online, saving time, and money. However I do know that If I am elected I will make computerizing the office a priority.

TJ: Can you give us a better idea what the Clerk of Court office's does?

Barbara Johnson: The Clerk of Courts office is called the "core of the court"; we are the record keeper for the court. Civil cases, domestic cases, and felony criminal cases are filed with the Clerk's office. We also are the clerk for the Sixth District Court of Appeals; we file judgment liens, state tax liens, notary commissions, take passport applications, and issue warrants. This is just part of the over two hundred duties listed in the revised code for the Clerk of Courts.

Bill Kimberlin: The clerk of courts office works hand in hand with the 4 judges to process all court documents that include criminal, civil, titles, and notaries. The clerk files all court documents, processes court costs and collects the fees set down by the judges and mandated by law. These documents can include everything from divorces to issuing warrants to sending out jury notices to all residents throughout Erie County,

I_eat_salad: How have you prepared for tonight's chat event?

Barbara Johnson: I have prayed and looked at figures.

Bill Kimberlin: I have prepared for this the same way I have prepared for the rest of the race: by researching the issues and problems with the clerk of courts office, and preparing to make the necessary changes in the office.

KH: What upgrades are needed for more efficiency?

Bill Kimberlin: The most important upgrade is to computerize the clerk of courts office like the other 87 counties in Ohio, and make all documents available online to all parties involved. The 4 courts in Erie County are all computerized and the clerks office needs to be able to work with the judges as well as the public. This must be done in order for any efficiency to take place.

Barbara Johnson: Dockets on the web; accounts receivable; microfilming all records. I would not call it an upgrade, but open-mindedness and communication is certainly something that is needed. Dockets on the web would save time for both the public and the Clerks' office.

TJ: What kind of budget does the COC office have and what are your plans to make it more cost effective if the County Commissioners do not increase your budget?

Barbara Johnson: We have around a $900,000 budget. We will go back and regroup and will seek advice to find other ways to achieve the necessary.

Bill Kimberlin: In order to make the office more cost effective, you have to collect what is owed. It is just like any other business. If you don't bill and collect for your services, your business cannot survive. As for the commissioners not increasing the budget, we are all doing more with less, both at home and in our jobs. It is estimated that there is $1 million owed to the residents of Erie County in outstanding fees

legalbeagle: How do you plan on financing the new web format? New taxes? Higher court costs......

Bill Kimberlin: By collecting the huge amount of fees and court costs already owed. There is also a computer fund set aside that has yet to be used that will go to creating the necessary computerization. I would not ask for higher taxes, the office just needs to collect what is owed our county and our taxpayers.

Barbara Johnson: Frankly, that is going to take a great deal of study. There are NO easy answers to some problems, but we ARE researching and with help from all involved, will find the best possible solution.

TJ: Are there outstanding fees due to the COC office, and how should we collect these? How large is the "bill" ?

Barbara Johnson: Yes as in any business there are outstanding costs due; I will not take a guess on the amount. I will say that all outstanding court costs will not be paid into the county. There are many other areas of distribution mandated by law, i.e. other courts, other police departments, foreign sheriffs, State of Ohio to name a few.

Bill Kimberlin: The last estimate that I have is nearly $1 million, if not more. There has not been a financial audit of the clerks office in recent years. Once an audit is completed and we know the exact amount, there are agencies that will assist the county in collecting these fees for a small percentage ( with no additional cost to the taxpayers), and some agencies will even pass that cost on to the person that owes the debt. I have been contacted by law firms waiting to settle up with the county, they are just waiting for the bill

legalbeagle: What are your educational qualifications? What university have you graduated from and with what degree(s)?

Bill Kimberlin: I have a bachelors of criminal justice and a bachelors of sociology from Ashland University. I have a masters degree in counseling from Heidelberg College. I have a doctorate in psychology from University of Southern California, and I attended law school in Michigan. I am a graduate of LEADS of Erie County.

Barbara Johnson: I am a Sandusky High School graduate and attended Bowling Green University. I have performed every job in the Clerk's office-was trained by the best. EXPERIENCE DOES COUNT (30 years).

Votersrus: Why should voters vote for your opponent and why should voters vote for you?

Barbara Johnson: Voters should vote for the PERSON whom they feel is best for the job!

Bill Kimberlin: Mrs. Johnson is a good person who I have always respected and has given many good years of service to the people of Erie County. I believe people should vote for me because change is overdue and the taxpayers of Erie County need and deserve fresh energy to deliver the many changes needed to be efficient in our fast paced society.

genny: Both of you mentioned the experience you have that would prove useful in the Clerk's office. Please specify what skills each of you have that would benefit the inner workings of the office(s) -- both Title administration and Court duties.

Bill Kimberlin: I have worked with all 4 judges. I have also been a judicial law clerk for Judge Ann Maschari. I also interned in the Erie County prosecutor's office. With this court experience as well as my educational background and my leadership skills I firmly believe that this would benefit not only the clerk of courts office, but all of Erie County

Barbara Johnson: My first duty in the Clerk's office was working in the Automobile/Watercraft Title Office, greeting the public and issuing titles and a supervisor. Book keeper and legal, Chief Deputy of Clerk of Courts, performed all jobs in legal department also.

questionnaire: The Clerk's office asked for 4 more new employees for their workforce. How can that be justified in view that Erie County has an estimated loss in population of almost 2% since the last census. Will either candidate handle a loss of 1 employee as opposed to adding 4?

Bill Kimberlin: For me to answer this it is hard to determine without knowing the exact outstanding costs owed to the clerk of courts office. It is possible that there may not be a need for 4 new employees depending on the organization of the office which I will analyze when I am elected. Perhaps any additional employees may be funded by the office itself once the outstanding fees and court costs are collected.

Barbara Johnson: When Erie County added a fourth judge causing at least twice as much work for the already short-handed Clerk's office, no additional employees were added. Because record increase in cases filed and pleadings filed, the need for additional "record keepers" has grown. In order to accomplish all that is desired from the Clerk's office the additional employees are needed.

Lion_Tamer: How do you feel about the outsourcing of ECSO (FOP) deputies at the Erie County Courthouse and replacing them with non-union security.

Barbara Johnson: I believe in union.

Bill Kimberlin: My first concern for the Erie county court house is safety. I believe that with proper funding court security should be in the capable hands the Erie County Sheriff's Department. I have always been a strong supporter of unions.

genny: Much has been made about outstanding fees owed the county. Once collected, does the County Clerk of Courts have discretion to use the income for its operational budget?

Barbara Johnson: No. Any fees due to county will be paid into the general fund. The County Commissioners appropriate funds. As I mentioned before all outstanding costs are not county fees only.

Bill Kimberlin: The Ohio Revised Code determines where certain percentages of court costs go to. There is also a certain amount that goes into the general fund of the county budget as well as other projects such as computerization, document storage and other court related issues.

Socialadvocate: What kind of assistance do you offer citizens, such as the elderly, who maybe come frustrated or not understand the process and what is required of them?

Barbara Johnson: The staff in the Clerk's office and the Clerk are always available to explain anything that a citizen does not understand. Whatever time it takes and whatever needs to be done is done. Patience and understanding is always necessary.

Bill Kimberlin: Employees are responsible and accountable to all Erie County taxpayers and as such should help all who need assistance with the processes and services involving the clerk of courts office. All businesses should practice good customer service and this office is no exception

CGWENDY1: How much will it cost to upgrade the clerk's office with computers? After all, this is 2008.

Bill Kimberlin: Without being in the position I can't give an exact amount. However I have a commitment from another elected clerk of courts and their chief deputy to come to Erie County for 6 months on a weekly basis at no cost to the taxpayers to assist in any way with the computerization of the office.

Barbara Johnson: Sure, it is 2008 and the ERIE COUNTY CLERK OF COURTS HAS BEEN COMPUTERIZED SINCE APRIL 17, 2000. In addition the computer fund set aside for the Clerk has been and is used all of the time. Judges have signed entries.

questionnaire: I understand the Clerk's office handles over $1 million in taking in fines, costs, restitution and license title fees. Some of the money is invested in interest bearing accounts. What is done with the interest earned?

Barbara Johnson: That interest is paid monthly into the county.

Bill Kimberlin: I have asked this same question to the auditor and since there has been no recent audit of the records of the clerk of courts office I have no idea where the interest earned is at, and where it goes.

TJ: Doesn't this county position seem boring in comparison to some others?

Bill Kimberlin: No. I personally feel that there is no such thing as a boring position as an elected official of any office. You are dealing with things that are very important to people and need to be treated in a respectful professional manner.

Barbara Johnson: Absolutely not! It includes: 1. meeting with citizens on a daily basis, 2. continued education regarding the court system, and 3. a look at the Ohio Revised Code will surely stimulate your brain ! :) :)

KH: It seems the ability to institute change always comes down to the availability of funding, so how can priorities be accomplished when funding is an issue?

Bill Kimberlin: By running the clerk of courts office as efficiently as possible. This includes organization, good customer service, and the willingness to serve the residents and taxpayers of Erie County. Hard work and determination will enable the office to accomplish its job and meet its goals.

Barbara Johnson: Oh, the Clerk's staff will, as always "find a way". I assure you CHANGE will come; dockets will go online. "FAITH and WORKS" does change things.

Socialadvocate: Why did you decide to run for this office or why run again?

Barbara Johnson: As stated before, I enjoy the job. I have everything to offer: knowledge and wisdom that only comes with experience. Barb Johnson is able to deal with anyone. Why? I have an open mind and my philosophy is to treat others as I wish to be treated. I will continue to work hard and have no problem consulting with others to improve in every area of the office. I am truly thankful that I have been blessed to perform in this position. I value the support of my family, the citizens of Erie County, and my very capable staff. Thank You! :)

Bill Kimberlin: I was asked by members of the party 2 years ago to consider this position because of my experience and education. I was born, raised, and am now raising my family in Erie County. We are in a challenging time here and I would like to be active in leading this county through to a better future. I believe that I can make the positive changes to the clerk of courts office and to help the people of Erie County. During tough times the true leaders step forward to meet the challenges. I am ready to do so. With your vote on March 4 we can all take that step together in the right direction. Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this forum, and thank you to the Sandusky Register for sponsoring it.