Hicks Wants to Keep Job
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
In less than a year, Moore County's new clerk of court has had to struggle to retain an already short staff against a growing caseload and a reduced state budget.
When Catherine Graham retired, she asked Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb to appoint Susan Hicks as her successor, and he did exactly that in January.
Hicks took office Feb. 2 during a time when the state was quickly running out of money and found herself fighting to keep what workers she had left with one position unfilled.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) was facing $30 million in funding cuts at the time and had put in place a freeze on hiring new employees or filling vacancies.
Recently, Hicks announced that she will be running to keep the job come next year's election, honoring a promise she made to Graham and Webb at the time of her appointment. She is a Republican.
"I would like to extend a personal thank you to Catherine Graham for believing I was up to the challenges of this office and to Judge Webb for his confidence in me," Hicks said at a recent campaign kickoff reception at Little River. "It has been a wonderful experience and a job I love - therefore, I am announcing my candidacy for clerk of Superior Court for Moore County."
Hicks gave a thumbnail review of the challenges she's faced since taking the job, recalling the many changes she's seen since she first started working in a clerk of court's office as a deputy clerk.
"That was 1984, the days of handwritten receipts and calendars typed on a typewriter," Hicks said. "Enormous responsibilities to the public and a great opportunity to help people shaped my belief that this career would be extremely satisfying and one in which I hoped to retire."
Moore County's long-standing reputation as one of the top clerk's offices in North Carolina meant her first goal would be for the office to continue that reputation.
"My personal mission statement has always been to serve the people of Moore County," she said. "I strive to feel - at the end of each day - that my staff and I did the very best we could to ensure that all people who came through the doors were well served."
The greatest challenge facing Hicks in maintaining that hard-earned reputation was the state's fiscal crisis, which hit hard on growing counties such as Moore. Her office had more work to do and fewer people to do it.
"Dire as this may sound, I always try to find the positive in everything, and in every crisis lies an opportunity," Hicks said. "So while our state and county continue to struggle under tough budgetary restrictions, we have tried to continue to improve our office and our service to Moore County. From the first day of my tenure as clerk of Superior Court, we began implementing a strategy to combat this significant threat to our ability to provide essential services to the public."
She said she started by making sure there would always be a trained worker ready to handle whatever was needed by cross-training the staff.
"My staff began learning how to perform all of the functions of the various departments in order to maintain the operations of those departments during times of vacation, sickness, furlough, or when an employee leaves, retires, or if a position should be eliminated," she said. "To expedite receiving payments during lunch hours and on days with 300-1,200 cases on the criminal administrative calendar, I added a third cashier on the first floor."
She moved one employee, who had both estate and criminal experience, upstairs to the estate division full time. That way the office would be better able to assist the public in opening an estate or with special proceedings while at the same time maintaining a backup person to do criminal work when needed.
Hicks said she moved the scanning of files to a more private area to avoid interruptions and promote efficiency. She brought in new equipment to improve updating information on the pool of prospective jury members. Now there is an adverse weather option on the telephone menu giving immediate access to the public when weather forces court changes or cancellations.
She put out a printed guide in the form of a brochure. It gives a brief summary of each department of the clerk's office and lists numbers of direct telephone extensions for all departments.
Former N.C. Gov. Jim Holshouser is serving as honorary chairman of her campaign, and both Graham and District Attorney Maureen Krueger - herself an appointee who later ran and was elected to office - praised the job Hicks is doing.
"Please feel free to call or come see me at the office anytime," Hicks told the crowd of well-wishers at her kickoff. "I will be filing in February 2010. I need your help. I need your support. I need your financial support, and I need your vote."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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