Circuit Clerk office to lay off employees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 18, 2003

Due to a 10 percent state court budget cut, Butler County Circuit Clerk Allen Stephenson will lay off a third of his staff on Nov. 26.

&uot;We basically have a deficit the new court budget won’t allow for,&uot; Stephenson said. &uot;So the Administrative Office of Courts has deemed we will lose 214 clerk specialists statewide, out of approximately 700.&uot;

Stephenson’s office will lay off two of his six clerks.

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The circuit clerk said the staff reduction isn’t being done because of a reduction in case filings.

&uot;In the past 12 months, we have disposed of 9,996 cases in this office,&uot; he said. &uot;We also had more than 6,000 filings during that time that we did not dispose of.&uot;

He said that number has increased every year since he has been in office.

&uot;In the public world, you cut staff when business is bad and there isn’t much work to do,&uot; he said. &uot;This is exactly the opposite. I’m not whining – I was elected to do a job, and will do it to the best of my ability with whatever the people see fit to allow us to have. I’m certainly willing to abide by their decision, and they definitely spoke during the tax referendum.&uot;

The problem, Stephenson said, won’t end with the layoffs in November unless more money is found for the court systems.

&uot;Unless there is substantial funding by next year, we will lose another two, if not more, next year,&uot; he said.

And that could likely happen, he said, because his office has nothing left to cut.

&uot;In the last 18 months, we haven’t asked the Administrative Office of Courts to buy pens, gem clips or staples,&uot; Stephenson said. &uot;The only thing they have bought has been paper, toner and postage. It’s easy to see how a 10 percent budget cut can equate to reducing a third of my staff; we didn’t have anything else to cut.&uot;

Stephenson said the members of the Alabama Association of Circuit Clerks met as soon as they got the budget cut news and voted to take a 5 percent pay cut to offset the deficit.

&uot;The chief justice has opted not to take us up on that,&uot; he said.

Other repercussions of the court system’s budget crunch are, effective Oct. 1, all temporary or part-time employees of the court system have been discontinued, all education conferences are canceled, no merit raises have been given for more than a year, Butler County is now only using one court reporter, rather than the standard two that are used to expedite court cases, continued freeze on hiring and promotions, in-state travel only in emergencies and a continued ban on out-of-state travel of any kind for any personnel.

Despite the increased workload for his reduced staff, Stephenson said he plans to continue his &uot;no overtime&uot; policy.

&uot;In the years since I was elected, we’ve never turned in one hour of overtime, and we will not begin now,&uot; he said. &uot;We are trying to figure out how to do things better. I have a wonderful staff, and we are going to do everything in our power to see that nothing will be felt outside of the office. It may take us a little longer, but we will do everything we can to make sure service doesn’t suffer.&uot;

Stephenson said there might be effects felt that are beyond his control, however.

&uot;There are all kinds of things that will hurt this office in the long run,&uot; he said. &uot;We have lost all kinds of employees in the judiciary that have left to get other jobs in other state agencies that were paying merit raises, when we weren’t.&uot;

He said one of the things that will affect Butler County would be his office’s contribution to the county’s general fund.

&uot;We are one of the larger contributors to the general fund,&uot; he said. &uot;Because of the budget cuts and the one-third reduction jury trials, funding will be cut to the general fund, which will affect other agencies in the county. A great deal of money comes through my office that is contributed to other agencies outside of the judiciary.&uot;

Stephenson said he has hopes the budget crunch can be resolved in the coming year.

&uot;We are blessed to have Rep. Charles Newton and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, who have been an advocate for the people,&uot; he said. &uot;They have helped us immensely, and they are aware of the situation. I think they will go back to the legislature in February and try some way that we can bring all of the parties together, as we were unable to do with this last referendum, and find some way to fund these programs.&uot;