EDITOR'S NOTE: BryantDaily.com welcomes all political candidacy announcements. We will attempt to run them with a minimum of editing. We encourage voters to be discerning.
BENTON — “I made the people of Saline County three promises when I first ran. I have[more] kept all three,” Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan said in announcing he is seeking a second term.
His promises were to bring the technology of the office into this century, hire no convicted felons to work in the office and give part of his salary back to the community.
“When I came into office, I was determined to find better and more efficient ways to do things. I was also determined that if there was a better idea on how to do things, I would not accept the response of ‘that’s the way we have always done it,’ ” Milligan said. “While you can’t run government like a business, you can use sound business principles in government.”
“I also noticed the circuit clerk’s office only accepted cash or checks. Frequently, people would come in to file a deed for a transfer of land between family members, or take care of some other business with our office. In the case of a deed transfer, there is a fee set by state law of $15 for the first page and $5 for each additional page. People often wanted to pay with a debit or credit card because they didn’t have cash or a check with them. They had to leave the court house, got to a bank or ATM, or even back home to get their checkbook, and then return to complete their business,” Milligan said. “This was not good customer service. We are now set up to take both debit and credit cards.”
One of the most important duties of the circuit clerk is to make sure qualified jurors are in the court house and ready to serve when a civil or criminal trial is set. The system Saline County had used for years involved jurors calling an answering machine and listening to a recording. If they were not called for jury duty this time, they were instructed to call back at a later date.
“Those called for jury service agreed this antiquated method of jury notification was one of the most difficult parts of their four months of service. In September, Saline County jurors began getting notified a different way. Now potential jurors are notified by a call to their home or cell phone, a text message or an e-mail – their choice,” Milligan said. “At the start of each term of jury service, we hold an orientation for new jurors. Using this system to remind new jurors of orientation, we have increased attendance.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court has requested more information from Milligan’s office on the jury notification system and the high court is considering expanding its use to the other 74 counties.
In December, Milligan began polling jury pool members to see what his office could do better.
“I wanted to make jurors’ experiences as easy as possible. How better to do this than ask members of our jury pool. There are some good ideas. I am working with our four circuit judges on implementing those ideas,” Milligan said. “I was pleasantly surprised to find our new jury notification system is a big hit.”
Here are some of the comments from the anonymous online juror survey:
“I am so proud of our system being innovative enough to use e-mail and text messaging for a communication tool and cost effective too! Way to go!”
“I had heard horror stories from jurors elsewhere so I was reluctant when I received the notice, but Saline County Jury duty was a real pleasure. Great experience and minimally disruptive to my life. Great job, folks.”
“…adding text and notifying us, replacing the call in, is most helpful!”
“I am very glad we were able to use the text/email notifications.”
“I'm very impressed. Keep up the good work.”
Milligan has produced a video on jury service that is posted on his website. It answers the most asked questions people have about serving on a jury. He has also expanded the circuit clerk’s website so it has more than four times as much information as it did in January. The website includes information on child support, divorce, protecting credit scores, filing fees, court security, the court case assignment plan, a civil process server’s list, a frequently asked questions page and more.
Milligan is overseeing the largest change in the way the courts do business in the history of the county. He has taken the lead in getting the county on the Contexte system. Contexte is a system that will put public court filings online in Arkansas ’ 75 counties. Eventually, Contexte will allow the courts in Saline County to discontinue the use of paper filings. All court records will be digital. Backup copies of the digital information will be stored at the Supreme Court in Little Rock and at a secure underground facility in Missouri.
Contexte will pave the way for e-filing in 2012. Pulaski County is doing a trial run of the e-filing system that eventually will be used state-wide. Once Pulaski County has worked out all the bugs, Saline County will be one of the first to begin taking e-filings, Milligan said.
“When I came into office, we took flings by mail and in person. I have added a fax machine so we can take filings by fax. Fax filing will become obsolete after e-filing comes on line. In the meantime, this is a service we are offering,” Milligan said.
Going to Contexte required all office computers be up-to-date. When Milligan came into office, some of the office computers were still running on outdated operating systems such as Windows 2000.
“If you know anything about computers, you understand that a five-year-old operating system is out of date. Using an 11-year-old operating system in not sound business and computers using such an old system would not be compatible with Contexte. The office has an automation fund for keeping the technology updated. Using the money set aside for this purpose, I replaced those antiquated computers,” Milligan said. “Also, some of the computers did not have virus protection. There was one computer we were considering replacing because it was almost not functioning. As it turned out, there was no anti-virus program and it was infected with 565 viruses. I had the latest anti-virus and spyware program installed on all office computers. The computer with so many viruses on it ran perfectly once the infections were removed and there was no need to spend money to replace it.”
Milligan has changed the office mail process. When he took office, all outgoing mail used stamps. The child support office alone mails out between 700 and 800 pieces each week, and each quarter of new jury panel is selected and over 550 notices are sent out. Since the office did not have a postage meter, every piece of mail had to be hand-stamped, with a stamp peeled off a roll and stuck on the mail. This made for a very slow process each time we had a large mailing. The office now uses a postage machine which is more efficient and provides better security.
“There are two ways to improve a public office. You can improve the technology and you can improve the training level of the employees in that office. We are committed to doing both. As there was no staff development program when I came into office, I explored the ways we could improve the training of existing staff,” Milligan said.
He began training office staff using the Arkansas Public Administration Consortium, which consists of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville . The APAC’s Certified Public Manager program develops management skills. Two employees have received training in 2011 year and additional staff members will receive training in 2012.
Milligan has kept his promise to give part of his salary back to the community. In 2011, he donated more than $13,000 to many good causes in the county including The Saline County Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity of Saline County, the Saline County Senior Activities Center , Sardis United Methodist Church ’s Gals at Sardis program, American Legion Girls State program, Saline County Single Parent Scholarship program, the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County. He also established scholarships for one college-bound and one vocational tech-bound student from each of the four school districts in the county.
One of the major campaign issues was his predecessor hiring a former elected official who had been convicted of felony charges while in office.
Milligan has hired no convicted felons to work in the circuit clerk’s office.
Milligan is a small businessman and a former chairman and treasurer of the Republican Party of Arkansas. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2008.