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A New Year and a New Day

 Sometimes it seems as if the calendar turns magically, the days go by so fast.  With a new year upon us, there is more hope at last for an upturn in the economy – finally.  After enduring these last few years, where so many people’s lives took a serious hit, we are at last seeing forecasts for better times.   But the good news is that we are approaching a recovery mode.

    Unfortunately, Florida has always lagged behind the nation by as much as nine months, and our area is even slower, behind the state.  We have to be patient, but it is happening.  If it hasn’t happened to your family yet, it will.

    The Clerk’s Office here is also in an upbeat mode, mainly because we are on track with our transition to new technology, which, when in place, will transform the way we do business – internally as well as externally.  While so many of our employees are learning new systems while performing their daily duties, we are doing things right, based on the positive feedback we receive.  Nothing is ever perfect, but our employees are doing a great job.

    We never forget that we are here to serve you – the public – and we are continuing to improve our service.  I know that we run into obstacles, and if we do, please let us know so that we can make appropriate corrections.  No one is perfect, and someone will make a mistake from time to time, but from our feedback, this happens infrequently.  And we do want to hear when things go well.

    Just as we have to be patient with the economic recovery, we also have to be patient with our transition to a paperless system.  When things are done right, they take time.  We want to make sure that our changes work, so we are testing and perfecting.

    Let us hope that the year 2014 is a good year on all fronts – and that it is a good one for you and your family.   May I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year – and only pleasant experiences in all of your dealings with the Clerk’s Office!

Not Business as Usual

     As I begin my third term in office, so much has changed in the Clerk’s Office.  We are definitely not the same operation that I found in place when I first took office eight years ago.
     I knew from the inception that we had to change the way we do business here – to meet the needs and demands of the times.  What I didn’t know then was how radical these changes would be – and what obstacles we would confront in our journey.

   The economic downturn which began in 2007 hit us hard here as elsewhere.   Unfortunately, we have not yet recovered, and it continues to impact us– in this office as well as in our daily lives.  We now have far fewer people doing much more work, and I don’t see that situation improving.

   While we have endured hard times, we have had much reason to be energized about exciting developments in the Clerk’s Office.   As I reflect on these changes, I can actually see the finish line in the not too distant future – as we transform the way we do business throughout our operation.

    I see the progress we continue to make in implementing Tyler’s Odyssey System in our Courts areas, moving through our different divisions toward completion.  I see our e-Filing implementation moving through the Courts, as we put our new case maintenance system in place, and that in itself is such a radical departure from how we have done business.

    What you may not realize is the magnitude of our operation.  For instance, during a one-year time period, there are over 370,000 new actions filed here, and our office processes over eight million court documents.  We handle over 62,000 case re-openings, accept over 2,100 Notice of Appeals, and maintain and store over 2.2 million case files.  That’s a lot of paper!  How radically different it will be when we are not mandated to have hard copies of court papers! 
   We have so many other ongoing projects here, transforming the way we do business internally as well as with the public we serve.   It has not been all that easy on our employees who must do “double duty,” working with our new systems while performing their daily assignments.    However, they are excited about learning new state-of-the-art skills, as we move toward conducting our business in a more efficient, user friendly way.

    Do you realize that in the not too distant future, you will be able to do business from our office without coming down to one of our locations – and that you will have the capability to do so seven days a week/24 hours a day.    So stay tuned to us as the Clerk’s Office continues to evolve!   

Our Challenges Continue

One of the gratifying aspects of this job is witnessing the transformation of the Clerk’s Office right before my eyes! 
   When I first took office in 2005, I pledged to make this office take a giant leap in technology, to provide better service to you.  It has been a massive undertaking, but we are coming together, in spite of far fewer people on staff.   Our progress is all the more remarkable because we have so many employees who serve in a dual capacity – performing their daily jobs as well as testing the new technology we are implementing.
    Our most challenging assignment has been the introduction of our new Odyssey case maintenance system throughout our Courts.    Our employees are up to the task and work smarter and harder.  In Courts, we now operate with 20 percent fewer employees than we did a few years ago, with more cuts looming, if the Florida Legislature has its way.

    As I write to you, the good news is that we have started efiling in Probate and Mental Health, and we are moving efiling in other Court division, as we complete the implementation of Odyssey.   So you see, we are well on the road toward completion of this massive transformation.

    However, we keep getting thrown more roadblocks.  Our most recent one was delivered in the budget approved this past session by the Florida Legislature.  Beginning July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, the  Clerks of Court throughout the state of Florida are facing a combined cut of more than $30 million, which is  a $2 million cut for Hillsborough County.  The worst scenario for our Courts area would be an additional five percent cut.  I am hoping that will not happen, but as I write, the prognosis does not look good.

   Yet, we are moving rapidly, and not just in implementing Odyssey.  We are rolling out our new technology in Enterprise Resource Planning, commonly referred to as ERP; eFiling, redaction and Onbase.    We are also implementing a massive Strategic Transformation internally, to change the way we do business.  In spite of their heavy workloads, our employees have devoted their time and energies toward analyzing where we are, where we want to go and what the best way is to achieve our goals as we move forward.
   I am convinced that our employees are more fulfilled personally if they have a seat at the table and take a leading role.  I also believe that when it all comes together, you – our customer – will be the ultimate beneficiary in doing business with the Clerk’s Office.

   For more information on the new programs we are implementing, please read below:

The eFiling project involves the streamlining of the court filings process by enabling attorneys to electronically submit initial and subsequent filings through a web-based portal developed and managed by the Florida Association of Court Clerks (FACC), which will be connected to the Clerk’s Office Odyssey Case Management System.

Imaging and Content & Records Management
This program will eliminate paper from the majority of Clerk’s Office processing, allowing for significantly streamlined workflows and enhanced capabilities for customers who access case files – judges, attorneys and the public.  This will eliminate the need for physical space, thereby further reducing costs associated with paper handling and retention.

Case Maintenance System
The Odyssey Case Maintenance System is replacing several Courts legacy software products, enabling cross-departmental processing and laying the foundation for new capabilities, such as electronically processing and eFiling.

This project, through the implementation of Mentis aiRedact software, will auto-redact court documents to comply with Florida statutes.

The streamlining and automation of foreclosure and tax deed sales will be achieved through the RealAuction project, which permits sales to be conducted online.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Project 1 is an Oracle-based finance and human resources enterprise solution deployment project conducted by the Clerk’s Office, the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County. The Project 1 solution will standardize systems and processes across the three participating organizations, saving downstream maintenance costs and enabling best-practice business processing.

Hopes for a Better Year!

  As we begin the year 2012, I hope it is a happy and healthy one for you and your loved ones.   I am especially appreciative of good health.  It is something we take for granted all too often, until we have a health issue.  You may know that I had heart surgery a little over three months ago.  Fortunately, I have made a full recovery, but I am in physical therapy a few days a week, building up my strength.  I even wear a pedometer to measure how many steps I take each day!  I am eating healthier and feeling so much better.  And I now know that taking 5,000 steps or fewer every day is considered sedentary.  We all need to work our way up to 10,000 steps, which is considered active.
  If only the economy were in better health!  The economic forecasts for this year are not too optimistic, although there is a slight upward turn in some respects, such as more movement in the job and housing markets.  However, things are still tough for so many people – and that’s not a good thing.   The Clerk’s Office, too, continues to suffer from this economic downturn, internally and externally.  However, that pales in contrast to people who have lost their jobs and their homes and cannot seem to find the opportunities they need to get back on their feet.
  We continue to operate with far fewer people than we had a few years ago, with many serving dual roles as they participate in the testing and implementation of our new case management system in our Courts areas while continuing to serve our customers every day.   We are also rolling out new technology in ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), efiling, redaction and Onbase.  All of these efforts are geared toward meeting our eventual goal of a paperless operation.     And they are all directed toward you – to make it easier for you to access our services.
  Change can be a scary thing – especially if you have done your work a certain way for years.   For our employees, especially the ones who have lengthy tenure, they have had to learn new and radically different ways to do their work.  However, they have no choice – nor do we.   My goal when I first took office was to take us to the next century, and I intend to keep that pledge.  The good news is that we are on course to do just that.
   With a new session beginning in the Florida Legislature, I am hopeful that we will not endure any radical cuts, as we have in the past.  We have absorbed a Reduction in Force, furlough days and no pay raises for employees during the last few years.  We have also had to close our main traffic office, in the Floriland Business Center, as part of our budget cutbacks.
   However, we are on track to make the Clerk’s office more effective, efficient and customer-oriented than ever.  Internally, we have established a process to move forward with a new, transformational approach to how we do business.  These are exciting times, and my hope is that you are all the beneficiaries when you do business with us.