Probe Clerk's Office

Florida Today News Item

Nov 30 2004

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Nov 30, 6:26 PM

Probe clerk's office

Repeated failures mean the performance of Scott Ellis must be rigorously

When Scott Ellis ran for Brevard County Clerk of Courts in 2000, his platform had one
main plank:

He promised he'd get the department's troubled computer system "up and running 100
percent" in one year. Then, he'd focus on demanding "accountability for county government."
After all, he said, he had a degree in computer science, a master's in business
administration and 20 years in the computer field.

He not only failed to meet his promise in the first year, he's failed to do so for four
inexcusable years.

At best, that indicates an inability to do the job for which he's paid $126,578 a year --
slightly more than Gov. Jeb Bush makes. At worst, it may constitute misfeasance that could result in Ellis's removal from the office, to which he was re-elected without opposition last month. Either way, the office of State Courts Administrator Elisabeth Goodner should report the problem to the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, who should the n report it to the governor for a thorough investigation.

Since Ellis took office, he has not provided usable data on criminal cases that the state
requires, says Goodner. There are still too many errors, despite three years of effort by
her staff to help him improve the situation. A county might have a short-term problem, Goodner says. But Brevard is the only one of Florida's 67 counties-- that's right, the only county -- where such poor performance "has
been going on for years." It has now become a "critical issue," Goodner says.

Why? Because after two years with rising case loads and no new judges, the Florida
Supreme Court plans to push this year for more appointments.

Without the detailed court data to prove need, Brevard might not get the judges it
deserves, resulting in delayed trials and scheduling problems that could affect thousands
of people who depend on the courts to function efficiently. So what's Ellis' excuse?

This ersatz crusader for "government accountability" has plenty. Enough, in fact, to fill a two-page letter to Goodner, detailing his problems in getting and delivering accurate information. Problems, he adds, that cost his office -- that means all of us taxpayers -- thousands of dollars in overtime pay that should not be necessary.
He also piles blame on software-vendor Tiburon, even though it was Ellis himself who
hired Tiburon to improve the computer system.

Considering he's made a career of attacking other government departments and
employees, the four-year failure of his own leadership in office is stunning. But not surprising.

A county commissioner from 1992-96, Ellis has long been a mix of anti-government
zealot and perennial seeker of increasingly well-paid government offices.

When he ran for Clerk of Courts in 2000, we warned he might use the office to pursue his
narrow agenda, already demonstrated by votes as a commissioner against such basic
services as public libraries and improvement in solid-waste disposal.

His last four years have been marked by repeated public posturing on a variety of
subjects -- most recently, complaints about overtime paid to county employees who
worked through the hurricanes.

And all this while his own department was repeatedly failing to meet a major
responsibility, and while he had to pay his workers overtime because of his own failures.
For the public accountability Ellis so often touts, we again say an investigation of his
actions in office must be approved -- and fast.