By Kendra Hennis
In a special four-part section, I will be interviewing all of the candidate hopefuls vying for the office of Circuit Clerk. To ensure complete fairness, all of the same questions were asked to the candidates before any interviews were released and I have given their exact responses on the matter. Please enjoy and don’t forget to vote on March 17.
Where are you from?
What is your current occupation?
“I am the Chief of Police in Newman”
What is your educational background?
“Formal education is definitely important. However, I have a different outlook when it comes to education. In my opinion, education can be classified into three categories. First, there is formal education that comes from secondary and tertiary institutions. Secondly, there is a combination of formal education mixed with life experience. Lastly, there is life experience alone. One of the definitions of education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” I do have an associate’s degree from Lake Land College and am currently finishing my bachelor’s degree at EIU. I also like to joke around and say I have a PhD in common sense. I am certainly grateful for the formal education I have received, but I will forever be indebted to God for providing me with all the hurdles and successes that I call life experience.”
What do you know about the court system?
“Being a ten-year Law Enforcement Officer who currently holds the position of Chief of Police, I am confident that my experience in law enforcement is a big advantage in transitioning to the position of Circuit Clerk. None of the candidates, including myself, who are seeking the position, have experience actually performing the duties of the Circuit Clerk. In fact this election will be the first time since 1960, when Tom VanVoorhis was elected, that the Circuit Clerk will not be from within the office. So, that leaves the question open as to what experience is most relatable and beneficial to the position. When I first met with current Circuit Clerk Julie Mills back in June 2019 I asked her this question. Without delay she said, “Someone with experience in law enforcement, someone who is already familiar with state statutes, someone who is familiar with court, and being an administrator in Law Enforcement is a huge bonus as well.” She continued to say there are quite a few Circuit Clerks in the State of Illinois who started off as Law Enforcement Officers. This conversation made it clear to me that I was making the right decision to enter the race for Circuit Clerk.”
What do you understand to be the duties of the Circuit Clerk’s office?
“The position of Circuit Clerk is set by state statue, so, that is a relatively simple answer. The Circuit Clerk is an Illinois Constitutional Officer, elected by the people of Douglas County. The Circuit Clerk and deputy clerks are tasked with filing and maintaining all court records that go in front of the court in Douglas County. Here in Douglas County, the Circuit Clerk is also tasked with being in charge of the Water Drainage Districts and they are the ex officio of Water Drainage District elections. The Circuit Clerk is also in charge of collecting and holding in-trust money for tax payers to be distributed to local and state agencies and municipalities.”
Do you have any experience that relates to the office of Circuit Clerk?
“I have ten years of experience in both court documentation and testifying in court, I file paperwork regularly with the Circuit Clerk’s office and I am always in very close communication with them throughout my job as a Law Enforcement Officer. I would also refer back to my Law Enforcement experience, as well as being an administrator within a Law Enforcement Agency. I was also the owner/operator of a business services company in Mattoon. So, I think an accumulation of my knowledge of the court process, state statue, and just being in an administrative role for so long, is very relatable to the Circuit Clerk’s position.”
Why did you decide to run for this position?
“Well, I didn’t go looking for this position. I had a few people within the Republican party and some other citizens of Douglas County, come to me and ask me if I would be interested in running for Circuit Clerk. At that time, I was familiar with the Circuit Clerk and knew some of the things they did, but I didn’t know what the job entailed. Once I did my research, I was able to sit down with Julie Mills and really find out exactly what they did. I saw that it was very close to what I was doing now, just from a judicial role, rather than from a law enforcement role. But, like I referred to earlier, I am really passionate about public service. I have done public service my entire life, whether that was being in the military, a law enforcement officer, of just doing volunteer work. I know how important the Circuit Clerk’s position is in Douglas County. And like I said, Tom VanVoorhis was elected Circuit Clerk in 1960. He is the last person in Douglas County to be elected that was not from the office. So I felt passionate about having someone in that position who could make a seamless transition in that role because, without the Circuit Clerk’s office the judicial system in Douglas County would crumble.”
Why do you feel that you’re best suited for this position?
“First of all, my experience in the court process. But almost equal to that would be my passion for public service. There is no better feeling than helping others and giving back to my community. I have a long history of public service ranging from community and international service work, serving in the United States Air Force to working in the public sector as a police officer. One of my most satisfying accomplishments, besides serving my country in the military, was becoming a Paul Harris Fellow with Rotary International not once, but twice. I am so passionate about serving and helping others that I plan to start a volunteer/community service program within the circuit clerk’s office. Non-profit organizations will be able to submit volunteer opportunities to me, which will be posted in the office. Deputy clerks can choose to partake in these opportunities in their off time. Once they reach a certain amount of community service hours, I will personally donate money in the deputy clerk’s name to a charity or non-profit organization of their choice. I have also arranged for matching funds from various businesses, community leaders and citizens of Douglas County. I am blessed by the gifts that God has given me in my life and I want to do my part in making sure everyone feels as fortunate as I have.”
What changes would you make to the office?
“Julie Mills has built such a solid foundation in the Circuit Clerk’s office. I can’t thank her enough for her service to the citizens of Douglas County. For thirty-five years she has worked there, serving for the last twenty-four years as the Circuit Clerk. That office runs extremely efficiently for the resources that they have. So, I don’t like to look at making changes, I like to look at making improvements to the current office systems so that the office can continue to run as efficiently as possible. Some of those improvements would include technological improvements. I think that is probably the number one question I get while I’m out on the campaign trail, as far as electronic payment, electronic filing, and electronic citations. So I think that technology will play a big role in the office, but I don’t think that there necessarily needs to be any major changes to affect the day-to-day operations.”
Do you think that technology will play a big part in the Circuit Clerk’s office moving forward?
“I certainty do. Undoubtedly technology will play a big role in the future of the Circuit Clerk’s office. In 2018 the Illinois Supreme Court mandated that all civil court documents shall be filed electronically in all counties across the State of Illinois. It appears as if that directive will include criminal and traffic cases in the future. We need to make sure we are not behind the eight-ball when that order comes down.” Electronic Payment of fines and fees will also be explored in the future as well. The stark reality is that most people pay their bills online. Whether we like it or not that is the way our society has turned. The office currently runs very efficiently; however having these technological additions in place will ensure compliance and be conducive to this efficiency model.”
How do you define public service and how will it play a role if you are elected as Circuit Clerk?
“I think public service is everything. Public service encompasses not only volunteering but customer service as well. When people come into the Circuit Clerk’s office, most of the time they’re not coming in for something good, they’re paying a fine or a fee, filing for divorce, or something within the court system that is not always a pleasant thing. So, I think that it is imperative that customer service is the number one thing that we really focus on in that office. But as I said before, public service is very important to me. I have a long history of volunteering and going out in the community helping people out. So I think public service is a really important part of that office, or any government agency for that matter.”
Are there any special skills you possess that separate you from the other candidates?
“Being bilingual has been one of my greatest assets throughout my career, In addition to my native language of English, I also speak Spanish. A 2017 Data USA study showed that 7.2 percent of Douglas County’s population is Hispanic or Latino. I have interpreted for nearly every one of the Law Enforcement Agencies in Douglas County as well as the State Police and drug task force. Effective communication with everyone who utilizes the Douglas County Circuit Clerk’s office and court system is imperative. I have had the honor of getting to know Julie Mills and the deputy clerks. Each one of them will tell you how important this skill is. Almost daily the office is faced with a language barrier that can in fact hinder the service one receives. I was talking to a deputy clerk last week about a Facebook campaign ad that I ran about how I was bilingual and she said, “Nathan that is something that we could use nearly every day. We have people who come in and we have no idea what they’re saying.” Along with me being able to speak Spanish, I also want to implement a desktop translating system so that I’m not there or busy, the deputy clerks can use this system and be able to effectively communicate with the person. It’s not the fault of the people coming in that speak Spanish, and we need to make sure we’re taking care of everybody coming in. Also, as far as skills, I started off my Law Enforcement career as a dispatcher. My military career, compounded with being an Emergency Medical Dispatcher, shows the fact that I can multitask, my attention to detail is impeccable, and combined with common sense, you have the perfect set of skills to move you along in life.”
Is there anything else you would like added?
“I want to talk a little about my military service. I come from a long family lineage of military service. Both my grandfathers served during WWII. My great grandma and grandpa Burton watched as five of their children went off to war in the 1940’s. My father is an Army veteran who served in Vietnam as well as most of my aunts and uncles. Serving my country was a no brainer for me. As a young nineteen-year-old I enlisted in the United States Air Force. During my time as a weapons specialist on the F-1 6 fighter jet platform I learned some of my most valuable skills and attributes. In 1998, 1 suffered a back injury while loading a fuel tank on a jet, which still haunts me today. But I have never let this disability hold me back. I have fought through all the pain and surgeries to get to where I am today. The ability to follow strict technical orders, work well under pressure and multi-tasking now come natural to me. My military service rounded me out and made me a better person for sure.”