Article

The Saginaw County Clerk Candidate Forum

Providing the Backbone of County Government
Posted In:Politics, Local, Candidates | From Issue 828 | By: | 09th June, 2016 | 0


The Saginaw County Clerk’s office in many ways serves as the backbone of county government, responsible with supervising all national, state & local elections, along with administering Michigan’s Campaign Finance Reporting Act, as well as processing applications for passports, notary public, marriage licenses, birth & death certificates, military discharge orders, assumed name & co-partnership certificates, and handling all record collection and maintenance for the 10th Circuit Court, to name but a few of the administrative responsibilities involved with the office.

Democrat Susan Kaltenbach has served as Saginaw’s County Clerk since the year 2000 and is retiring the position, which opens this pivotal office to three challengers. Currently her office consists of four deputy clerks and three file clerks. Additional duties of this position include serving as Clerk of the Family Court, the Board of Commissioners, the County Election Canvassers, the Apportionment Commission, along with clerk of the Jury and Plat Boards, so there are numerous and significant responsibilities associated with this office.

Candidates seeking this pivotal position consist of Democrat Michael Hanley, currently serving as Chairman of the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners, who also waged a write-in campaign for the office back in 2000.  Hanley will face Democratic challenger Tammy Bieszke in the August 2nd Primary election.  The winner will face Republican Amy Carl in the November general election.

Recently we submitted the following questions to all three candidates and their unedited responses are noted below. 

Review: What administrative and organizational qualities do you possess that qualifies you for the many detail-oriented duties of this office?

Hanley: I’ve performed in a number of administrative and organizational rolls over the course of my adult life, including starting and operating two successful small businesses, being a State Representative and the leader of a political caucus in Lansing that employed over 50 people with a two million-dollar budget, as President of UAW Local 699 - responsible for a million-dollar annual budget and as Chairman of the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners.

Moreover, I have been deeply involved in efforts to shape organizational culture, which is a key driver of individual performance.  You are correct that there are many “detail-oriented duties” in the clerk’s office and I intend to learn them all.  However, my most valuable contribution will be supporting staff development and empowerment to provide the best possible service to the public and to our courts and township clerks.  Managing is the most important part of the Clerk’s job

Carl: As a prior Insurance Agent and Real Estate Agent, I have extensive knowledge of office management, systems, and procedures that will be necessary to perform my duties as clerk. Additionally, I have served on the Board of Canvassers, which has allowed me to experience and obtain many of the skills and abilities to conduct the state and local elections. I have always prided myself on providing courteous, professional, and excellent customer service in the past, and will continue to do so as your Saginaw County Clerk. 

Bieszke:  I am not a career Politician, however I work at the Courthouse in the Circuit Court Records Department as a clerk, which is one of the Departments I will be overseeing right along with the Vital Records Department, if I am elected. 18 years as a contract paralegal with a group of prominent Attorneys gave me years of experience in administrative and organizational qualities. I am a women of integrity and my mission is to serve the Saginaw County Council in its legislative function and to provide the best services to the community efficiently, accurately and with respect.

 

Review: Currently Saginaw County has allocated no budgetary funding for IT or Digital Technology for the Clerk’s office and reportedly there are 700 boxes of court records in storage that cannot be destroyed until they are transferred to microfilm. Given the amount of digital recording & document transmittal that must be conducted on many levels through this office, how would you address this growing issue?

Carl:  Once in office, I would request to be placed on the board's agenda to request the board to extend the current contract with APS Employment Services, Inc. This will allow the employment of the contract person to continue scanning documents until a new and efficient procedure can be implemented.

Bieszke:  The clerk's office currently has a contract employee performing scanning. If elected, I would request that we work with DHS with the work first program where the people volunteer 40 hours a week to the community and also with local High school for the studies that need extra credit,  for the work experience and help save our community and Saginaw county money. 

Hanley: As you’ll see below, it is not possible to address this issue with the Register of Deeds Automation Fund.  There is currently no similar state mandated fund for County Clerks.  The State has created a new Judicial Electronic Filing Fund, to “help bring those Michigan courts still stuck in a paper-only era into the electronic age”, but it’s unclear whether this new fund could help us catch up.   Although the clerk’s office currently has a contract employee performing scanning, more resources need to be dedicated to this effort.  As clerk, I would work with state and county government to identify a funding source to eliminate this backlog.  A state review of the respective revenue needs of each office would seem to be a rational part of this discussion.  Both offices perform primarily state mandated functions, so it is incumbent on the state to fund performance of these mandates.

Review: By statute the only county department that does have an IT technological fund is the Register of Deeds, which receives a certain percentage from each recording that goes into a tech fund.  Reportedly this fund is currently sitting at around a million dollars, so do you feel some of this money could be utilized also by the Clerk’s department to improve the expedition and documentation of things such as equalizations, which the Clerk’s office does handle?

Hanley:  From the Michigan Department of Treasury:  The Register of Deeds’ Automation Fund was created for upgrading technology in the Register of Deeds’ Office, to include the design and purchase of equipment, and supplies and implementation of systems and procedures.   The current balance of this fund is about $557,000.  It can’t be used for purposes unrelated to the Register of Deeds office.   The County Clerk and Register of Deeds offices perform no related functions.

Carl:  As public servants, we must strive to find the most effective and efficient ways to perform the duties of the county clerk and register of deeds offices. Utilizing the tech fund would definitely enhance expediency and promote best practices.

Review: A big issue in recent years is whether the County Clerk office should merge with the Register of Deeds. This first surfaced when former controller Mark McGill proposed combining the two offices to save $100,000 as part of a cost-cutting plan; and over 30 other Michigan counties have done this.  What are your thoughts regarding this and are you in favor or against such a merger?

Bieszke: Performing the job as a Saginaw County Clerk, is all about being organized and being able to communicate with the public/employees, being a team player and managing the Departments. The registered of Deeds is a different Department that performs different duties to the community, which has nothing to do with Vital records and/or the  10th Circuit Court Records. You should not combine Departments that has different job duties that may confuse the community just because they have the funds that the other Departments may not have. Its all about budgeting the funds and working with different programs in the County and coming together, as I have stated in question one.

Carl:  I would be in favor of adopting a resolution to combine the county clerk's office and the register of deeds in order to advance innovation while cutting costs if further studies support those findings. Public records are vital to society, and we must not allow the combination of the two offices to become a political issue.  

Hanley:  This issue was explored by the County Board in 2010.  At that time, we held a public hearing at which individuals from around the state spoke.  There were Registers of Deeds, County Clerks, Clerk-Registers, and people who had supported the idea then changed their minds.  There was a representative for a mortgage title company who urged caution and ensuring the integrity of property records.  Each of the others testified against the concept, as did Clerk Sue Kaltenbach, who stated that the added burden on her would result in the County having to hire personnel to take on tasks that she currently could perform for herself.  The County Board rejected the idea.  Your question states that more than 30 counties have merged these departments.  By inference this mean that approximately 50 have not.  This merger remains an option for Saginaw County, but I don’t anticipate it being re-evaluated any time soon.

Review:   Feel free to add your thoughts about any item I may not have touched upon.

Hanley:  It sometimes comes to my attention that due to my long time in elected office, some people in this county perceive me to be a “career politician” who “has never worked a day in his life”.  This is because my being a “career autoworker” with the vast majority of all of my income coming from manual labor never made the headlines!  Public service and activism to build a better Saginaw County (and world!) has been a labor of love for me for about my whole life.  It’s just part of who I am.  If I’m fortunate enough to be elected County Clerk, I’ll do the job with the same passion I’ve put into all the other positions, and I’ll never quit working to help Saginaw County and its entire people to be all that we, together, can be.

Carl:  Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on these pertinent issues. It is an honor to be a candidate for Saginaw County Clerk.  If elected, I pledge to perform all my duties of the office to the best of my ability, and with the utmost integrity. I humbly ask for your support on August 2nd, and again on November 8th. It will be an honor and a privledge.

Bieszke:  My goal is to continue implementing changes to help the people of our community/Saginaw County save money and build a brighter future.   

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