Spokane County Clerk Tim Fitzgerald finds himself challenged by Michael Kirk this November.
Kirk, a Democrat, is looking at reforming several areas including court fees if he usurps Fitzgerald, the incumbent Republican.
Family? How long living in the area? Single, four children. We have had family living here since 1989. My family and I moved here in June, 2011.
Why did you want to file for candidacy again? I love the job. I really enjoy the challenge of making the second busiest office in county government one of the best in the state. I have built a strong reputation of working extremely well with the other elected officials especially with the Judicial Officers and Court Administrator of Superior Court. I immediately started modernizing the clerk’s office by: establishing electronic forms, implementing debit/credit card transactions, electronic time sheets, bar code scanning for all legal paperwork, the complete digitization of all our legal records and implementing policy improvements making the clerk’s office very efficient and saving the tax payers tens of thousands of dollars a year.
We have greatly improved customer service with electronic forms for legal letters and certified documents at the front counter. We have opened our doors during the lunch hour when most folks are available to come to the court house to conduct their business.
Finally, we have established an electronic stamp and drop box for after hours enabling customers to still file their documents when our office is closed. I want to finish up what I started four years ago, again making Spokane County’s Clerks Office one of the best in the state.
What are your goals for the clerk’s office over the next four years? There are several; however, I first want to complete the final phase of my modernization plan which involves two major projects. The first project is our transition to the new Case Management System, Odyssey. This is a major electronic computer program upgrade my staff and I have been working on for two years. I purchased the equipment a year ago so staff could learn to use the equipment before having to train on the new computer program. Learning both at the same time would be a difficult challenge. Therefore, I separated the tasks enabling my staff to focus on one requirement at a time. I created a budget to ensure our equipment purchases, training plan and personnel costs were covered. The last thing Spokane County needed was another budget shortfall. Finally, I built a comprehensive training plan to train my staff on the new case management system. Not only will my staff train with instructors, they will also do additional training on a computer based tutorial program. I prepared presentations for the Bar Association, County Department Heads and the Board of County Commissioners so they were aware of the transition and the impacts on the county. We also have a public information plan. We “go live” this November.
My second major project is implementing electronic filing and electronic work flow. This will enable law firms and the public to go on line and access court documents, copy them or submit them and paid for them on line. I have worked with IT to ensure the proper security protocols will be in place to protect the confidential information and sealed data. The next step is the workflow. I have already built in the capability to receive electronic documents, however unless we are able to move them electronically to the court, prosecutor and public defender it is an incomplete system. This will be a team effort with Spokane County, legal agencies, and my office who will lead the way. With these two major project goals complete we will be one of the most modern clerk offices in the state with greatly reduced costs, efficient use of employee time and increased access to justice for the public.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future? I believe the biggest issue facing our county is the mental health crisis and its effect on our communities. This issue reaches further than the law enforcement first contact and overnight bed space availability. We must develop a comprehensive system starting with providing our law enforcement personnel with a proper facility to assess those in crisis and ending with a process to provide long term mental health care and services to those who need it. Recognizing that the jail or the hospital emergency rooms were not the complete solution, Spokane County and city teamed up to look at building a Community Resource Center. The idea behind the center is to provide a place for law enforcement to take an individual experiencing a mental health crisis that has medical personnel, security, and mental health professionals who would assist the individual and then determine what the next steps should be. We have the experts and the right resources in Spokane to work on this problem. I believe we are heading in the right direction. Nonetheless, there are still many other challenges for our county to address. It is my belief that we need to stay focused on this issue of mental health, continue to work with all the stakeholders and develop a working solution no matter the challenges. This issue needs our attention, now!
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? Folks are trying to understand the county budget and how funding is allocated in the county. It is very positive to see that the public is asking the right and tough questions. Many want to know why Spokane County is tight on money and what can be done to alleviate that pressure. I brief them on the fact that our county has only two revenue sources: sales and property taxes. As a County we currently have multiple unfunded mandates, several alone in our criminal justice system, and a challenging funding model for counties. We are a county of services. We provide services the public desires. If the public wants more services or better services then the county departments need to do a cost benefit analysis, which we do, to see what it would cost to provide the new and/or increased services. If the cost is outside the county’s ability to fund, we must then go back to the people of Spokane to explain the cost and let them tell us what cuts are acceptable and what is not. The majority of folks I have spoken with agree with this line of thinking. Voters want to be involved in the budgetary process. For this reason we are currently holding budget focused public hearings at the Board of County Commissioner's Public Hearing Days to address these very concerns.
What differences separate you from your opponent? The clerk’s office is the second busiest office in county government and it is a dynamic complex environment in which we operate. My 30 years in the United States Marine Corps, retiring as a colonel, working in top level positions as a squadron commander, task force commander, director of operations for a 55,000 person force and as Chief of Staff for all NATO forces in Regional Command Southwest, Afghanistan directing a staff of 440 personnel from 8 different countries have provided me with the extensive executive level leadership and managerial skills needed to run this office.
The clerk’s office serves all in the county as it runs the day to day business of the county’s legal system. It is based on building and maintaining relationships in the court house, with the legal community and with the public. I have excelled at this and built the reputation of the clerk's office as a professional, hard-working, customer service oriented office. I am solutions oriented and I maintain high standards in the office. I have an office of super stars who are true public servants and care about our county. I run my office as a chief executive officer would run a business. I have extensive experience in the legal field, budgeting and organizational management. Hence the reason the office has been quickly modernized, stayed on budget, and has strategically planned out our major electronic program implementation this November. For me personally, I believe in public service, community involvement and ethical actions
Family?How long living in the area? My wife Noelle is a criminologist and USMC veteran, and my daughter Thea is an incredibly clever, strong, and talkative toddler. We’ve been living in Spokane for three and a half years now, and our daughter was born at Valley Hospital. The rolling hills and the farmland that flows with them make me and my family feel at home. My in-laws are now considering moving here after a few visits.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? I hadn’t planned to run for any office this year, but I believe that the people deserve a choice in every race. Knowing that there are issues to address in the county budget and the criminal justice system, there’s a need to break up “the team.” After the women I was recruiting decided to not run, I filed myself to ensure that someone was looking at the issues in the legal system. Much of the work done to modernize the office has been good, but many simple improvements have also been slow or non-existent.
What are your goals for the clerk's office over the next four years?
1) Prepare form, process, and website for online document requests.
2) Upgrade the cybersecurity of the office to protect privacy.
3) Work with state legislators to exempt unpaid child support garnishment from the $200 civil case filing fee.
4) Notify all Spokane County citizens eligible for reduction of interest owed to the state.
5) Secure budget line for Data Specialist and for Team Leader positions in the Clerk’s office.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future?
Aside from more affordable housing, which is outside the scope of this office, there is a set of serious issues facing Spokane County. The people dying in our overcrowded Spokane County Jail, that half the people in that jail are pre-trial (i.e. presumed innocent), and that we need to study the information gathered throughout the criminal legal process to find out how we got into this situation and how to fix it. While some Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council members like Councilman Beggs are champions of alternative courts and other reforms, much of the leadership has been obstructing data study in word or deed. We need a change in culture that prefers substantive reform and evidence based practices to protecting “the team” and rearranging deck chairs.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? It surprised me how many single parents I met who had difficulty getting their child support payments and how many years and decades people who have supposedly paid their debt to society (including free labor while incarcerated) can still be stuck paying fees and interest to the county. I wasn’t surprised by the support for my proposal for a student Safety and Justice in school subcommittee of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council. Student outcomes aren’t what they should be, we want our kids in school, and we want them safe. When children do things that require police involvement, we need solutions that judges, schools, and parents can agree on that keep our kids in school with real options for the future.
What differences separate you from your opponent? Personally I see a lot of similarities between the incumbent and myself. We’re both men who have committed their lives to service and have done a huge amount of management, filing, and paperwork in pursuit of that ideal. In his own statements, the incumbent says we differ in that I view advocacy for the suffering in society as part of being a public servant. I’ve written a bill that would help single parents get access to the courts and the support that they need, and I will keep working to make sure that we help people save money, have better access to their records and the courts, and that leadership and experience are rewarded in this office.