Manatee County clerk of court achieves ground-breaking efficiency

In this day and age of taxpayer unease over government spending and excess, citizens demand accountability and penny pinching as the highest priority. Rare is the elected official who can demonstrate cost reductions alongside greater efficiency, the hallmarks of private enterprise but scarce in the public sector.

Manatee County boasts a public servant whose diligence and determination over many years has led to another ground-breaking administrative achievement -- one that has gained attention around the globe. R.B. "Chips" Shore, Manatee County clerk of the circuit court and comptroller, has led the way on the creation of a cutting-edge court document e-filing system that saves money and time.

This marks another step in the progression of his other innovations and improvements in document accessibility. Back in 1998, Shore launched paperless record-keeping and then initiated the digitization of court documents in the early 2000s. But those advances feel short of providing broad accessibility.

His latest accomplishment enhances the judicial process by allowing judges, attorneys and clerks to work electronically -- completely paperless, should they choose.

That came about after Shore assembled a task force that included judges, technical experts and others to devise a solution. He then enlisted Mentis Technology Solutions to design software flexible enough to meet a broad range of technological skills.

The resulting product, which became operational two years ago, continues to receive upgrades.

Judge Lee Haworth of the 12th Judicial Circuit described this advanced case management system as "the difference between horse-and-buggy and the space age."

The software has gained wide usage within the legal system, including the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the State Attorney's Office, public defenders, outside attorneys, clerks and others. Lawyers have quit lugging boxes of documents to court and now file motions electronically. The clerk's office no longer pays to store records or spend staff time manually filing documents.

Carole Pettijohn, the technology services director in Shore's office, described the efficiency benefits succinctly in a recent report by the Herald's Elizabeth Johnson: "We're stopping a number of time-wasting efforts. We were literally able to absorb this increase in workload without having to add staff."

In that same report, Shore articulated the project's goal and subsequent success: "It's something the judges want and need. They finally found something that works, which they've never seen before. The more judges who see it, the more excited they get."

Other counties around Florida and beyond are installing this breakthrough software system, dubbed the "Manatee Model." Indeed, Shore, Pettijohn and Haworth will make presentations on the functionality and investment returns in December at the National Center for State Courts' e-Courts 2012 International Conference in Las Vegas.

Kudos to Shore for his leadership in the development of this advance and to the entire team who contributed to this success. This is government at its finest.