The next Kane County circuit court clerk will implement a large portion of the massive technology upgrade for the local courts that might cost as much as $12.6 million. But the three GOP candidates competing for that job disagree about how it should be done and the problems in the office that sparked a $460,000 lawsuit.
Republican voters will choose among a current employee of the office, Karin Herwick; a county board member involved with the lawsuit, Cathy Hurlbut; and a former board member, Tom Hartwell, who served at a time when the current computer system was slipped into place without the board realizing it was happening.
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The candidates said during an endorsement interview they each have a clear conscience about any connections to the lawsuit.
Hurlbut said the idea was to have a process of mutual information and collaboration at the time the current court technology was put in place. But that process wasn't followed when current Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller inked a contract to move ahead on a system without the county board knowing it. By the time the county board realized what had happened, it was too costly to reverse the actions.
"We didn't really have the ability to say 'no' to that contract," Hurlbut said.
Herwick disagrees with that version of past events. She said all the stakeholders in the computer system were involved in the choice Seyller made and signed off on it. The contract Seyller entered into was both a legal and well-informed choice, Herwick said. The tenor of the process is a different issue, she added.
"But I'm not going to sit and defend Deb Seyller, obviously," Herwick said. "You would have to ask her about it."
Hartwell said the biggest mistake about past events is continuing to let them weigh down progress toward future improvements. In that realm, he has yet to see any evidence the county must spend $12.6 million to update court technology. A new computer system -- without a specific price tag -- was a component of a settlement agreement after Seyller sued the county board (which then countersued) regarding hiring practices in her office.
"When I heard that number, I said that's a lot of money," Hartwell said. He's in favor of having a series of vendors come in and run pilot programs for their proposed systems before spending any big money. He also wants an outside audit to point out any current waste in the office.
Hurlbut said the county has spent two years doing its homework, and officials are ready to move forward as soon as a circuit clerk who will cooperate with the pending change is in place. The only flaw so far is that Seyller has not fully participated in the studies to determine what the computer system needs really are, Hurlbut said. The county board has been waiting for Seyller to submit her own report on the technology needs in her office for six months, she added.
"If the circuit clerk's office isn't participating and isn't part of the rest of the team, this process can't move forward," Hurlbut said.
But Herwick said the county has done only a superficial job of laying the groundwork for the pricey technology upgrade. Herwick said she's not convinced there is a mutual understanding between all the offices involved in the court system of what information must be exchanged, and in what fashion, for the new technology to actually create a cost savings for taxpayers in the long run.
"There needs to be an understanding of all of these offices," Herwick said. "It's not just about whether or not they are on board, but you need an understanding of what they are actually replacing with this new system. There is work that can be done right now to get data exchanged better than it is right now."