Care and Custody: County clerk sees positive changes

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 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
 
Changes at the Ingham County Circuit Court may be subtle to some, but Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum is convinced they are a move in the right direction.
 “We still have a long way to go,” says Byrum. “But we’re on our way.”
Supervision of two key employees has been moved from the 30th Judicial Circuit Court to the office of the County Clerk. Those employees—the Clerical Services supervisor and a Chief Circuit Court deputy—each supervise Circuit Court clerks.
Byrum noted that although the Michigan Constitution states that the county clerk’s responsibility is care and custody of county records, Ingham County shifted that task to the Circuit Court more than 20 years ago.
“It’s my understanding that it was an agreement entered into by the then-county clerk and the chief judge,” Byrum said. “And that agreement was modified but still continued by the former clerk. I was elected Jan. 1 of 2013 and I did not have a desire to carry on that agreement because I believe the care and custody of the records is sacred and needs to be done by the county clerk so there are some checks and balances.”
One of the first things Byrum did when the changes went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, was to assess the current state, location and security of the Circuit Court records.
What she found was “troubling.”
Files were found in four locations, some of which are in decrepit areas of the county annex building and in a garage, and some were water damaged as the result of burst pipes.
“I’m concerned about the security of some of the locations,” she said. “Luckily I have a wonderful working relationship with the court administrator, Shauna Dunnings. And she is committed as am I to having higher standards of care and customer service in the court. So I’m working very well with her, and we are bringing these concerns to the controller and Board of Commissioners.”
Dunnings said the goal is to have the files in one location, although she’s not sure yet where that place will be. She called the supervisory changes “an excellent example of county departments working together.”
Also new at the Circuit Court is a greater emphasis on customer service.
“I would hope people are seeing a change in the culture when they come in and are waited on by Circuit Court clerks,” Byrum said. “We’re trying to be true public servants in the office. I think any time there’s a change in supervision, you’ll see some changes over time. And I hope one of the changes people are going to see over time is a stronger focus on customer service than what had been.” 
The County Clerk maintains two offices. Circuit Court Judge William Collette and one clerk work out of the historical County Courthouse in downtown Mason. The other judges and clerks are at the Veterans Memorial Courthouse in Lansing. 
Byrum has offices in both locations.
“Thankfully with technology nowadays there are a lot of things I can do on my computer and on my phone from different locations,” said Byrum.
 

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