Wednesday, July 20, 2016
How NorCo Can Fix Its Row Offices
Nowhere is this weakness more evident than in the row offices, and more specifically, in the Civil Division. Brown claimed he would improve performance in that office through the increased use of technology. The truth is that when a copy machine broke down last week, the staff was so shorthanded it was unable to make copies of divorce decrees and custody orders for members of the public. One lady who spent an hour traveling to the courthouse last week was actually sent home, empty-handed.
So much for customer service.
Increased use of technology has led to an online civil docket that county officials never bothered to check with the people who actually use these records. They know better. The result was a docket that failed to inform the public that not all records are included, making it impossible for anyone to rely on this docket and exposing the county to liability for missed judgments.
Even now, the County is supposedly working on an online civil records system, but has failed to enlist the assistance of the staffers, lawyers and searchers who would actually use these systems.
So much for "continuous improvement" from the end users.
This top-down approach always fails. I have seen it before with previous Executives.
If the County really wants to halt the turnover in the row offices, there are two things it needs to do.
First, cross-training. I have mentioned this several times over the years. Everyone agrees it's a wonderful idea. Nobody actually does it. In the Civil Division, where the manpower shortage is acute, the problem is compounded because most of the clerks are only trained to do a few tasks. Every employee in that department should be trained to do every task required, from taking passport applications to entering judgments. Every one of them. Right now, one employee can sit at her desk with nothing to do while another is pulling her hair out. Every employee in that office should be trained to perform every task.
This cross-training should extend to all the row offices - Civil, Criminal and Orphans's Court. An employee who does a marriage license should be able to take a payment for a fine, process a passport application and sit down to help a battered woman fill out a Protection from Abuse Petition.
Part of this cross-training should require a periodic rotation of row office employees so each becomes familiar with the tasks in different departments. Then, when there is a manpower crunch in one office, employees in another row office can come to the rescue.
Employees in each row office would still spend most of their time in that office. But they should be rotated out for one month every year.
This will give them a better understanding of the criminal and civil justice system, will make their work more interesting and make them better workers. At the same time, customer service will improve.
Second, the tests for deputy positions need to change. Northampton County is supposed to be a merit personnel system in which employees who excel are rewarded. Instead, most employees in the row offices fail the tests for deputy positions because those tests have no relation to what they actually do. They are asked questions about software programs they don't use. As a result the County hires a deputy from the outside who knows software programs, but knows nothing about the functions within that office.
When these employees are continually passed over, they get disgusted and leave. The merit personnel system has become instead a joke designed to trap people in place.
Incidentally, the copy machine is fixed, thanks to a call to Brown's office from Agent 99. Turns out it just needed a bottle of toner.