By Sue Botos
Financial stability and the continuing use of technology highlight the “to do” list of both candidates for Rocky River Municipal Court, incumbent Deborah Comery and challenger Jeanne Gallagher.
Comery is completing her first term as clerk, and was chief deputy clerk under Bill Gareau from 1996 to 2007. The native of West Springfield, Mass., has been a Rocky River resident since 1969, and has received numerous professional accolades, including 2011 Clerk of the Year and a Professional Certification Award from the Ohio Association Municipal/County Court Clerks and an “Appreciation for Commitment, Service and Dedication” recognition after having served as president of the Northeast Ohio Municipal Court Clerks Association (2012-2013).
Westlake native Gallagher is a 1977 graduate of Lakewood High School, and has made Rocky River her home since 1997. She and husband Owen have two daughters, a freshman at Rocky River High School and a fourth-grader at Kensington Intermediate School.
An assistant bailiff for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Juvenile Court Judge Kristin Sweeney since 2010, Gallagher has been active in union work, serving as president of the Textile Processors, Service Trades, Health Care, Professional and Technical Employees International Union, Local No. 1, in 1993. She has also served as an international trustee, overseeing the budgets of all the local unions in the United States and Canada.
She is active in community organization such as Youth Challenge, Connecting for Kids, Girls with Sole, Rocky River PTA, Adoption Network, St. Baldrick Foundation, March of Dimes and Hunger Network Cleveland.
West Life recently posed several questions regarding the operation of the courts to the candidates, and how they would maintain its self-sufficiency.
WL: Why do you feel you would be an effective court clerk?
Comery: Since I started with the court in 1996, we have gone from a very good municipal court to being one of the most well-respected courts in the state of Ohio. A good deal of that is directly related to the advancements that I have been directly involved in, such as completely upgrading the court’s computer system. We now scan, in real time, all of the documents that come into and out from the court to ensure that the court’s record is complete and readily available to whoever may have an interest in an ongoing case or past case. All of this information is available on our website, www.rrcourt.net, so that we fulfill the constitutional mandate that all courts be as transparent as the law allows.
Gallagher: The successful operation of the Rocky River Municipal (Court) cannot be accomplished alone. This can be accomplished through the power of the collective. As court staff works with the public in providing services, I would brainstorm with them to implement better ways to serve our public and make the court more user-friendly. I am currently a member of a brainstorming team that has brought improvements to the clerk’s office at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. I would research available funds and grants available to use technology such as smartphone applications and payment technologies such as “square” payments. Technologies should be used to make the court as paperless as possible.
WL: What is the biggest issue facing the court today?
Comery: Maintaining the highest levels of service with reducing resources. The court has an amazing core staff. Each … employee has an incredibly high level of dedication that has allowed the court and the clerk’s office to continue to provide the best service. As technology continues to provide new and more efficient programming, we hope to “best our best” in how we serve each individual who comes to our court.
Gallagher: One of the biggest issues facing the court today would be the loss of revenue from … North Olmsted. This is due to the North Olmsted Mayor’s Court that began in January of this year. The court cannot afford to lose any revenue to future mayor’s courts.
WL: How will you continue to keep the court self-sufficient?
Comery: The Rocky River Municipal Court will continue its self-sufficiency by maintaining the level of fiscal responsibility that currently exists, not only within the clerk’s office, but with the judges as well. A number of years ago, I began creating monthly financial analyses to ensure we were on target with our budget. This continuous oversight has allowed us to make the necessary adjustments to ensure our spending stays within manageable limits. We have created a tradition that must be maintained, and I will do everything in my power to make sure we continue to succeed.
Gallagher: An elected court official is accountable to the public as well as the officials of the five Westshore suburbs. I would not take that responsibility lightly. If the court is not self-sufficient, budget cuts must be made accordingly. An official should not even brag about “operating in the black.” It is something we are elected to do.
WL: Do you see more mayor’s courts as being a challenge in the future?
Comery: I can only trust that the dedication the Rocky River Municipal Court has shown to the cities that we serve, the continuing fiscal responsibility that we show to not be a burden to the cities that we serve and the extraordinary services that we provide, including one of the finest probation departments in the state, will be a driving force in keeping regionalism alive in the cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake.
Gallagher: Mayor’s courts do threaten the municipal court system, and it is a concern. It is also concerning to me that any offense that could put a defendant in jail for a period of time is not being heard by a jurist. Are they receiving their due process?