Saturday, September 19, 2009
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Board chooses new circuit clerk

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(Originally posted Friday afternoon)

[September 19, 2009]  A new circuit clerk has been chosen for Logan County. Suzann Maxheimer has been appointed to serve as the circuit court clerk of the 11th Judicial Circuit, beginning Oct. 1. The Logan County Board made the approval Thursday evening.

RestaurantThe board scheduled an additional adjourned meeting in order to allow potential candidates to come forward after Carla Bender, the current clerk, made her unanticipated midterm resignation announcement two weeks ago.

Maxheimer will fill the vacancy with no days lost between officials when they hand off duties, as Bender departs on Sept. 30.

Bender's four-year term began Dec. 1, 2008. She tendered her resignation in order to take a state appellate court clerk position. She will become the clerk for the 4th District Court of Appeals on Oct 1.

A brief summation of the duties of the clerk of the Logan County Circuit Court is provided on the clerk's Web page:

The Court Clerk is a constitutional officer elected every four years by the voters of Logan County. The duties and responsibilities of the Circuit Court Clerk are established by state statute, the Illinois Supreme Court and the local rules of the 11th Judicial Circuit.

The Circuit Clerk's primary function is to establish, maintain and keep all records of the court and the official court seal. In addition, the Court Clerk serves as the administrative arm of the Court and is responsible for all financial duties relating to the Court system. All monies owed to the Court are collected and distributed by the Circuit Clerk.

--Copied from

The board prepared to begin the interview process

Prior to candidate presentations, board chairman Terry Carlton invited Bender to explain the responsibilities of her position for the board's more thorough understanding of the job tasks.

What does the circuit clerk do?

Bender began by saying that the major duty of the clerk to the court is to be the administrative arm of the court. Every paper or document that is filed, every docket entry that's made, everything that has to do with any case is the responsibility of the clerk. The court relies on the clerk very heavily to make sure that this is done and that it's done correctly. The judge relies on the file being correct. That is our job, and we take it very seriously, Bender said.

"I have a great staff and I'm very proud of the job that they've done over the course of these years," she said.

Getting more specific, Bender said that they are responsible for all of those filings, to know the procedure and the process. One of the difficult tightropes her staff walks is: "We are not allowed to give legal advice, which often is difficult for people coming into the office to understand. We can do what the law says we're allowed to do, but no more."

The office collects a lot of fines and fees. The financial side of the job is enormous.

Bender supplied a list that showed her office makes collections between $50,000 and $98,000 that go just to the general fund. In sum, that office collects close to $1 million a year that goes to the county's general fund, which the county relies on. "We have an enormous financial responsibility," she said.

She emphasized that these figures did not include amounts collected by the office for municipalities, the state treasurer, child support and other miscellaneous fees. These fees are assessed, collected, documented and dispersed at the end of each month. "So, we have a very precise system," she said.


"We get audited every year," Bender said, and she was pleased to say that she had never had an "audit finding," which she said is a common experience for her counterparts in other counties, because of the complexities of the job.

She then spoke for a bit on the administrative side of the job: staff hiring, training and delegating responsibilities to maintain a balance with employees.

There needs to be a deputy in every session of court. Court often runs late into the day, past 5 p.m. She and her staff in the courtrooms stay until court is out.

The overall impact of the circuit clerk's office affects other branches of government, including the treasurer's office, Bender explained. "Our responsibility is to the court system, but also to the board and ultimately to the people of Logan County," she said.

"In a nutshell, to me, this job is more an administrator who can listen and try to factor that into decisions that are made for the best interests of the public," Bender said.

Comments following Bender's presentation

Finance chairman Chuck Ruben recognized how the job that the clerk does significantly impacts county finances. He complimented Bender on the great job she's done on keeping up with state regulations. He specifically recalled one recent change Bender picked up on that allows the county to go back and turn certain uncollected fees over to collection agencies. That has helped Logan County, he said.

Bender agreed that it is important to keep up with legislative changes, and that it had been a particular interest of hers, so that she had kept organized documentation that has aided in the office's processes. She carried a large three-ring binder of this year's collections that she would in turn leave with the new officeholder.

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Candidate interview process

The three candidates who submitted resumes were all present for the board to interview: Brenda Wade, Rachel Bunner and Suzann Maxheimer. All three had strong backgrounds to bring to the table.

One at a time, while the other candidates waited outside the meeting room, each was given a few minutes to present herself and say what she thought she could bring to the position. Then the floor was opened for board members to ask each candidate questions.

Two board members asked the same questions of each candidate.

The county budget is currently under construction, and department heads have been asked to make cuts to the budgets they recently submitted. For many this may mean cutting staff. Kevin Bateman asked each candidate if they thought that they could maintain the quality of service in the clerk's office -- by making cuts, as he asked Wade, or without adding to the staff, as he asked Bunner and Maxheimer, since they are on the staff now and one of them would replace Bender, leaving a vacancy.

Chuck Ruben asked each candidate what their plans would be if they would not be chosen in the interim before the next election, and more specifically if they would run in the election for that position.

All the candidates indicated that if not chosen for the appointment, they would likely pursue the position through the next election process. Wade would seek a job that would keep her in the area, as the company she works for is going through changes that require she transfer elsewhere in the country. Bunner and Maxheimer, already working in the circuit clerk's office, said they'd stay in their positions.

The candidates

Rachel Bunner has nearly 12 years in the courthouse, earned her degree in leadership and management from Lincoln Christian College (now Lincoln Christian University) last year, and said that she is a loyal employee. Bunner said that she would continue working in the office if she did not get the appointment.

Brenda Wade has had a strong career with AT&T, working her way up through the ranks, and felt that she would bring strong administrative capabilities to the position. She said that she works well with others, has done all of the administrative things that Bender talked about, and where she hasn't had the specific experiences of the court system, she is a quick learner and would work hard.

Suzann Maxheimer has been married to Mark for 22 years and they have two children. She related to the board the importance of history and experience.

Born in Lincoln, she was raised until about the age of 4 in a two-story limestone and brick building at 911 Pekin St. Her father was sheriff then, and this was where the old jail was located, with living quarters for the sheriff and his family upstairs.

Now, a block away, she is in another limestone building, and Maxheimer said, "So how ironic is it that I've been serving you as felony clerk?"

Maxheimer has been with the circuit clerk's office the past 10 1/2 years. She recognized her past mentor, Cheryl Hedrick, as extremely organized, knowledgeable of the law and procedure. She detailed some of the experience she's gained over time that included clerking for visiting judges and juvenile court, which includes managing the judges' scheduling books.

She linked the human side of the courtroom, the trials and often sad, life-altering outcomes, to the importance of accurate recording, filing, the ability to retrieve information and the impact on many other parts of the legal system. "Each sentence affects many offices here in the courthouse: the state's attorney's, probation and the sheriff's offices. The detailed management of the court file is very essential, not just for the court, but all the parties involved," she said.

She said Bender has set the example for all to follow. "I and the other ladies have worked hard and devoted our careers to this task," Maxheimer said. "I believe I have the strengths needed to carry the office forward, and the relationships with my colleagues in this building will see to it."

The vote

With 11 of 12 board members present, the official recorded vote was 10-1.

However, because there were several discussions of procedure and voting processes prior to bringing the nomination for Maxheimer forward, new board member Bateman said he was confused at what was being voted on, and he intended his no vote to be a yes for her, which would have made it unanimous approval.


Jan Schumacher was absent for the evening.

Maxheimer's appointed term of office will extend from Oct 1, 2009, to Nov. 30, 2010. Then whoever is the winner of the next election will serve from Dec. 1, 2010, to Dec. 1, 2012.


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