Alittle more than five years ago, Pasco Clerk of the Circuit Court Jed Pittman hired Paula O'Neil as a strategic planner to begin transforming his out-dated office operations. The results are welcome.
The clerk's office, which had been reticent to embrace technology, put 9-million pages of officially recorded documents on the Internet. It is now one of only four clerk's offices in the state to accept electronic court filings. It allows motorists to pay traffic tickets online, and, most recently, made online searches of court dockets available to the public. A department-by-department review brought better efficiency that is demonstrated by reducing the wait to pay a traffic ticket at the West Pasco Government Center from 23 minutes to less than five.
These are significant improvements over the previous antiquated procedures, some of which hadn't been changed since 1976. Pittman is retiring after 32 years in office and O'Neil, named chief deputy clerk in 2006, is an obvious choice for the Republican nomination to succeed him. She is facing former New Port Richey mayor Dan Tipton in the Aug. 26 primary with the winner to face Democrat Robert Altman in November.
Attorneys and jurors might be familiar with the clerk's voluminous workload, but we suspect much of the public is not. In 2007, the office handled 129,000 court cases, staffed 140,000 court hearings, summoned 30,000 jurors, handled 2.9-million court documents including 170,000 subpoenas, summonses and notices, processed 10,000 passports, transferred 611,000 court files and recorded 200,000 official documents. The clerk must be custodian of county funds, including more than a half-billion dollars in investments; record deeds; be clerk to both the county and the court system; and serve as auditor of the county's $1.2-billion budget.
O'Neil essentially has been running the ship — overseeing some 400 employees and a $28-million budget — because of Pittman's poor health and his acknowledged infrequent visits to the office. We trust her work ethic will be superior to her boss'. Her tenure within the office makes her better prepared than her GOP opponent.
Tipton, who runs his own home remodeling business, promises to reduce the cost to the public for official documents, improve customer service, eliminate or reduce the reliance on an automated telephone answering system that handled 180,000 calls last year, and open a new office in central Pasco. His platform planks are contradictory. Improved efficiency and cost-savings go hand-in-hand with greater automation, not less.
To Tipton's credit, he began volunteering in the Levy County circuit court clerk's office to get a better understanding of the duties he will be asked to perform, if elected. But, one day a week for three months cannot compare to O'Neil's years of hands-on experience.
GOP voters should select Paula O'Neil as their candidate for circuit court clerk on Aug. 26.