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Circuit clerk hopefuls push easier records access

Ottens, Kovarik vie for Whiteside position

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT
Susan Ottens
Karl Kovarik

MORRISON – Most courts operate the old-fashioned way – with paper.

To see records, you usually have to go to the courthouse. But that might be changing.

Both candidates for Whiteside County circuit court clerk – Republican Susan Ottens and Democrat Karl Kovarik – say they want to make court records digital, which they believe would improve efficiency of the court system.

In a recent Sauk Valley Media questionnaire, Ottens, the incumbent, said her office collects fees that are used to automate its operation.

“I am using those funds to purchase the software and equipment for digital imaging,” she wrote.

Ottens said her office’s biggest challenge is too many files and not enough space.

“I hope the imaging will help take care of this problem, but it will also be more work for an already busy staff, and the budget is pretty tight right now,” she said. “We will adjust to this, as we have to many other changes over the years.”

In an interview, she said circuit clerks statewide are moving toward an eventual Internet-based system.

“This is just the beginning of that,” she said.

Kovarik noted the Illinois Supreme Court has pilot projects allowing e-filing of court documents. That will allow easier access of court records to participants in cases, the public, the media, attorneys and court personnel, he said.

In an interview, Kovarik said he could envision records being available to the public on the Internet. Now, he said, court personnel have to physically transfer records between the Morrison and Sterling court facilities.

“Why shouldn’t the public have easy access to the records?” he said.

Kovarik said his opponent moved on digitization of records once he started talking about it as part of his campaign.

That’s not the case, Ottens said.

“We were moving in that direction anyway,” she said. “I’ve only been here 19 months [as circuit clerk].”

Ottens, 57, has 24 years of experience in the circuit clerk’s office. She was appointed circuit clerk in February 2011. Before that, she was chief deputy under Sheila Schipper for 6 years.

“The circuit clerk is a hands-on working position, not just an administrative role,” Ottens wrote in her questionnaire. “The clerk must be willing and able to step into the role of any position in the office.”

Kovarik, 48, became a Whiteside County employee 24 years ago. For his first 8 years, he was an adult probation officer. That experience, he noted, required his reliance on documents maintained by the circuit clerk’s office.

For the past 16 years, he has served as the county’s 911 coordinator, which he said involves relying on technology to share information when dealing with emergencies.

The circuit clerk’s office maintains all criminal, civil, traffic, conservation and some ordinance cases. The office also handles collection of fines, court costs and disbursement of those fees.

The election will be Tuesday.

The candidates

Susan Ottens

Age: 57

Residence: Morrison

Education: High school, one year at Sauk Valley Community College

Employment: Whiteside County circuit clerk

Karl Kovarik

Age: 48

Residence: Rural Tampico

Education: Bachelor's degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa

Employment: Whiteside County 911 coordinator

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