Monday, February 21, 2011
Clerk's Office uses 'Fast Pass' to cut down wait
By Chad Selweski
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh is off to a fast start in 2011, converting to the latest technologies as a way to improve her staff's efficiency and cut costs for the county.
Sabaugh is launching a computer process called "FastPass" that will allow the public to avoid lines at her Mount Clemens office when attending to matters such as a birth certificate, business registration or court document. Using technology that's relied upon by Disney World and the Apple online store, FastPass will let Clerk's Office customers make appointments in advance on the clerk's website. They can also prepay any fees that are involved.
When a FastPass user arrives at the clerk's office, they will use a phone with Internet access or a computer in the lobby to notify the staff that they have arrived. The customer then proceeds to the counter and conducts their business.
The staff can process each transaction much faster and they can prepare paperwork in advance during off-peak hours.
Sabaugh said the system, which should be up and running in about two weeks, is based on the old adage that "time is money." The clerk has increasingly relied on high-tech innovations as county budget cuts have taken their toll, chopping down her staff from 98 in 2007 to 78 this year.
"This is moving us forward by using the latest technology so we can serve the public faster and more efficiently," Sabaugh said.
Because the Clerk's Office handles an average of 180 "vital records" requests per day, it's not unusual for a line of people to stretch out the door and into the busy courthouse lobby during lunch time. It's believed that Macomb will be the first county in Michigan to use FastPass in its clerk's office.
The clerk also relied upon a high-tech system to save the county $26,000 when purchasing the FastPass equipment and software. When the traditional process of seeking bids proved disappointing, Sabaugh turned to Elance.com and enjoyed a much better outcome — a $4,000 offer that represented nearly a 90 percent savings compared to the prior bids.
In September, Sabaugh completed a gradual process of converting her office to the Google Premier e-mail system. By tapping into so-called "cloud computing" rather than standard Microsoft e-mail software, the Clerk's Office can use Google for spreadsheets, word processing, website publishing, Blackberry access and anti-virus protection. At a cost of $59 per person per year, Google Premier even permits Sabaugh's court workers to communicate via text with staff and attorneys without disrupting court proceedings.
Chief Circuit Judge Mark Switalski was so pleased with the results that he signed a contract with Google in late December for more than 300 court workers, encompassing the Probate, Juvenile, Friend of the Court and District Court Probation agencies.
Another advancement in productivity at the Clerk's Office that should be ready by late March will allow people tapped for jury duty to fill out their juror questionnaire online. Those who have an obvious reason to be excused can handle the matter 24/7 on the website without making a trip to the courthouse.
Currently, the clerk's staff handles 80,000 juror questionnaires per year and Sabaugh no longer has the manpower to alphabetize them. If a judge requests a juror's documentation, the staff has to shuffle through stacks of documents to find it. The new software will process and store all the information from each summons.
The system carries a price tag of $143,000 and an annual cost of $108,000 beginning in 2012. But because the Jury Room staff has been cut in half — down to one full-time and one part-time worker — Sabaugh said the online services are needed to reduce paperwork and maintain efficiency.
One final move toward the cutting edge was made by Sabaugh in recent weeks when she implemented a new type of permit for those who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
The new CCW licenses are similar to a driver license, each with a photo and signature that are saved in a digital database. According to Sabaugh, the licenses produced by this "IDentiphoto" technology are much harder to alter or duplicate.
Under the current system, workers print and prepare a paper license, attach a passport-style photo, and then laminate the finished product.
Because the Clerk's Office handled 8,000 CCW permits last year, the cumbersome manual process of preparing the paper licenses, not including other paperwork and overseeing gun board hearings, takes up manpower that equals several days per month for one worker.
The streamlined process has substantially reduced staff time and has been well-received by permit holders.
The change required $35,000 in start-up costs and requires $108,000 in annual expenses. Fees charged for the new permit photos will help defray the cost of this project and the online jury services.
In each case, the new technologies are financed through special spending accounts that are set aside for expenses at the courthouse, the Jury Room and related "special projects."
Sabaugh said the public is appreciative of her growing reliance on technology, such as the wireless Internet service in the Jury Room and the pagers that allow potential jurors to stroll or shop in downtown Mount Clemens while waiting to be summoned.
Last fall, Sabaugh began offering marriage license applications on her website. Already, half of all marriage licenses are now processed online.
For more information about the Clerk's Office services, log onto macombcountymi.gov/clerksoffice.