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posted: 6/25/2013 8:16 AM

Editorial: Finding lessons in a bureaucratic foul-up

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

There is something instructive in the fix in which Kane County finds itself over more than 1,000 DUI convictions that were not properly reported to state authorities. Precisely what it is, in a situation involving cases five to eight years old, could take some sorting out yet, but there are indeed lessons to be learned.

The first and most urgent is that government departments need functional electronic tools and people who know how to use them, and taking chances with that axiom can lead to real trouble.

Precisely how and why Kane County failed to report 1,393 DUI convictions between 2005 and 2008 remains to be firmly established, but what almost no one disputes is that computer shortcomings were a major contributor. Some of those appear to have been resolved over time, but the DUI-filing disclosure emphasizes the importance both of a study under way into computer needs in the county judicial system and of the implementation of improvements as soon as possible.

The presumed $12.6 million price tag certainly demands that officials proceed with measured care, but the costs of delay also demand that they proceed. County Board members Mark Davoust and Mike Kenyon intimate as much in their call last week for officials to "immediately investigate these claims to determine what action, if any, is required in order to remedy this situation." Their suggestion that criminal charges be explored is not without justification, but obviously the backlog needs to be addressed first.

Once it is, getting answers on the assignment and nature of blame will be an important step toward assuring the court system is fully -- and appropriately -- functional.

Another feature of this controversy is the difficult relationship and apparent lack of trust between the county board and then-Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller. According to all accounts, Seyller was outspoken about the inability of her office to meet its demands under the budget constraints it faced, and some reports even suggest that she acknowledged the DUI backlog. But the full extent of the problem did not become clear until current Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hartwell took an accounting and reported the results.

It is virtually standard practice in any county where certain department heads must operate according to budget allotments they don't themselves control that the officers complain they are not getting enough money. And it is equally universal that the county board leaders who do control the purse strings cannot know the intimate details of each department's responsibilities.

During Seyller's administration of the circuit court clerk operation, the confluence of these two factors appears to have struck with if not disastrous at least disruptive force. Extricating themselves from this disruption will be uncomfortable enough for Kane County in the short term. But it's the results of the investigation that Davoust and Kenyon want that will identify the ultimate lessons for everyone in the long term.

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