Thomas Hartwell: Candidate profile, Kane County Circuit Clerk
Four years after winning a second term as Kane County Circuit Court Clerk in 2016, incumbent Republican Thomas Hartwell is facing a challenge from Democratic county board member Theresa Barreiro.
Hartwell, an attorney and former county board member from Elgin, has cited his experience and success in digitizing county court as reasons he is the best candidate for the post.
However, Barreiro, an Aurora resident, has been critical of computer systems problems in the circuit clerk's office and believes it should do more to help people burdened by court fees and costs.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I want to help people. I recall when I had my law office in South Elgin, a mother whose son was in Cook County jail because of gang activity, came to me crying. She asked, "Is there anything you can do?" I felt helpless because there wasn't much that could be done. He had made a choice -- a bad choice -- and had to suffer the consequences. But shortly thereafter, I teamed up with Joel Perez Jr. I have helped him form community youth programs in Elgin and Aurora. The success of those programs is what led me to first run for public office.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: With the help of my highly qualified and professional staff, we have been able to provide excellent service and become increasingly cost effective. We have more electronic services than ever before, and we have saved Kane County taxpayers over $7.5 million through my years in office. The many contributions include: completed the search for and negotiation of a contract for multimillion dollar state of the art case management system called Odyssey (2014). For the Odyssey go live, we configured the system to comply with Illinois law, converted 34 million existing data files and integrated Odyssey with existing systems (2016). We went live with civil eFileIL (2018), ResearchIL (2019), limited eFile Criminal (2020). Also we instituted fileless courts (2019) and remote court hearing via Zoom (2020) to adjust to the Coronavirus emergency. We reconfigured Odyssey to comply with the new Criminal and Traffic Assessments Act (2019).
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the clerk of the circuit court's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: For each year, the allocation of resources -- including personnel and capital for my office -- are contained in my annual budget, which has been approved by the Kane County Board without significant question. From year to year the needs of the office vary. Nevertheless, for Fiscal Year 2020 the allocation is appropriate.
Q: Name one concrete program you'll create or personnel move you'll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
A: We a will initiate a new human resources tool which will help managers and supervisors to track in detail the performance of staff. By better recording excellent performance and performance that needs improvements the office can better allocate training resources to improve performance. We continue to pursue efficiencies to bring added savings to the taxpayer.
Q: Describe your position on transparency in the office and the ease of access to records by the public. If you believe improvements are needed, what are they and how would you go about achieving them?
A: All nonconfidential information in my office is available to the public according to law. Most court information is easily available online. The public may visit in person as well. That said, anyone familiar with my officer knows the value we place on transparency, which nurtures an environment free from reprisal and encourages employees to be open about both their accomplishments and challenges. In my opinion, as a longtime administrator, transparency creates a sense of trust among everyone in the office. It helps keeps morale high.
Q; There are many court fees imposed upon those who go through the county's legal system. Some of those fees help fund the operations of the circuit clerk's office. Do you believe those fees are appropriate, or do they create inequalities in accessing justice for those with less financial means?
A: The determination of fees is a matter for the legislative process and decisions of the court. The responsibility of the Circuit Clerk is to inform customers of fees that are assessed by law or by the court. If there is a financial hardship, a judge may waive fees.
Q: What is the appropriate time commitment for the circuit court clerk's duties? Do you believe it would be appropriate for the clerk to have another outside job while serving in the office?
A: The Circuit Clerk should work full time or full time equivalent hours. The Circuit Clerk may appropriately maintain outside employment so long as it does not interfere with or prevent the Circuit Clerk from performing his or her duties to the Court and the public.