Candidates for Montgomery County Clerk of Circuit Court were asked the following questions by The Washington Post:
Role: Should the dual role of clerk and court administrator be maintained?
Operation: How can operation of the office be improved?
Frederick M. Russillo (D), 30, of 126 Duval Ln., Gaithersburg, is program administrator in the county circuit Court's Family Services Division. Previously, he was a research analyst for the court and account supervisor for Advance Mortgage Corp.
Role: The dual role of Clerk/Court Administrator contradicts Section 2-504 of the Maryland code as well as Section 1 of the clerks code of ethics; both sections prohibit the elected clerk from performing any duties other than those of his office. In Montgomery County, these extra duties are delegated powers from the administrative judge. Clerk and administrator roles should be merged within a single office by statute and/or constitutional referendum; the official acting in such a capacity should be selected through a process which ensures competency, honesty, integrity and skills necessary to the just and expeditions management of our courts. The national trend recognizing the need for professional, trained court managers complements the parallel movement toward nonelective or merit selection systems for clerks of court. The broad responsibilities and complexity of the position demand no less.
Operation: Implementation of an efficient system of management based upon a corporate codeterminational model. Adoption of a professional standards for accounting procedures. Implementation of a fair and equitable personnel system and training program patterned after that of an E.E.O.-approved executive branch model for all nonjudicial employees in conformance with A.B.A. standards. Operations manuals convering all circuit court departments. Establishment of an ongoing methodologically sound program in evaluation research and planning (including statistical monitoring packages) for all major court operations. Establishment of permanent internship programs through local university and law school deans. Reorganization of the Family Services Division to more effectively meet its burden of child support accounting and enforcement as well as counseling and referral services. Suspension of all prospective computer programming and technology applications pending completion of documentation and inventory of current court system capabilities. Competent liaisons with the public, the bar, the news media and other organs of government.
Howard M. Smith (D), (Incumbent) 57, of Nicholson Farm Road, Dickerson, has been the clerk of circuit court for 16 years. Previously, he was the court's director of administrative office and assignment commissioner, a parole officer, an investigator, an agent and a police officer.
Role: The role of court administrator are functions that have historically been performed by the clerk of the court, and the consolidation of these two offices are the prerogative of the judges. For financial, administration and the utilization of resources, a competent person should and could perform both functions. As the title "clerk" is a misnomer, with the consolidation of both offices, a more descriptive title, such as court executive, should be established.
Operation: A qualified individual properly motivated will make improvements in any office. However, with 29 different clerk's offices in the state, each answerable to more than 37 different federal, state and county agencies, significant advancements can only be made with the cooperation and agreement of the above entities.
Ruth K. Vurek (D), 49, of 5601 Huntington Pkwy, Bethesda, a realtor associate, has been active in county Democratic and community organizations, including Democratic Central Committe, PTA, YWCA, Montgomery County Civic Federation and Alliance for Democratic Reform.
Role: No the duties and responsibilities of the clerk of the circuit court, as specified in the Annotated Code of Maryland, preclude the need for a court administrator. The clerk is presently charged with administring and managing all necessary functions supportive of the Circuit Court. The position of clerk is currently authorized an annual salary of $30,000, which I believe to be adequate compensation. However, the incumbent is currently drawing an additional $8,200 annually for performing the duties and responsibilities of a court administrator. I submit that this second salary is wasteful and totally unnecessary, in that the position of court administrator does not exist; and, if it did, the position of court administrator would be superfluous.
Operation: I would institute the following improvements: 1)Immediate request for complete audit by Maryland General Assembly's Department of Fiscal services to determine d deficiencies which need to be corrected. Past audits have shown serious weakness in the procedures used with cash receipts and even periods where cash receipts were missing, as well as numerous other problems. All of these problems need to be corrected promptly by establishment of internal controls and standardized procedures. Further, I would respond promptly to other government entities and follow the state and county regulations. 2)Institution of standard personnel practices and procedures which would include performance review, promotion and incentive programs and grievance procedures. Present employees are not protected by the merit system and have no right of recourse. A change in the system would enhance the quality of service provided. 3) Abolish the courthouse beautification fund and any other unjustified special fund. We have a brand new courthouse.