Q&A: Brevard County Clerk of Court Scott Ellis Talks About His Current Term, Future Plans
By Space Coast Daily // April 11, 2016
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
EDITOR’S NOTE: Space Coast Daily sat down with Brevard County Clerk of the Court Scott Ellis, to discuss his perspective as he completes his current four-year term in office.
Ellis was born in Charleston, West Virginia and graduated from Eau Gallie High School in 1976. Following graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, attaining the rank of Sergeant prior to honorable discharge in 1980.
Ellis graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1985. He went to work for RCA at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a software analyst on the Command Destruct Range Safety programs.
Ellis has taken an active role in governmental affairs at all levels, writing and speaking on numerous subjects in Brevard County. In 1992, Ellis was elected to the Brevard County Commission, and was first elected the Brevard Clerk of the Court in 2000.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: How did your role as a Brevard county commissioner help prepare you for your role as county clerk?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: Having been a County Commissioner I think I better understood the checks and balances of both the County Commission and the Clerk of Courts. I cannot recall the last Constitutional Officer to have been elected who had worked as a County Commissioner. The County Commissioners have a duty to question and audit the spending of the Constitutional Officers as much as the Clerk has the same duties towards the Board. It was definitely a plus knowing not only many of the County Staff but the history of how many things came to be.
Q:SPACE COAST DAILY: What motivates you in your role as the Brevard County Clerk of Courts.
A: SCOTT ELLIS: It is a relentless job requiring a number of technical, budget, and management skills while serving a broad spectrum of the public, few of whom are happy to have to deal with the Clerk’s Office. Other than Marriage Licenses and Passports we have few people come through our office happy about being there. We have gone through ongoing budget cuts by the State for seven years totaling over 25%, and I have the ultimate responsibility to make the cuts and the decisions on resources allocation. To do so I have to know our people and our operations. I do my best to lead by example knowing I cannot expect others to do work I will not do myself.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: When you took office in January 2013 as Clerk of Courts, what was the situation that you inherited and what changes did you make?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: The Blueware fiasco had the potential to financially wreck the office. We were faced with a “loan” the prior clerk had taken out and expended for Blueware which was to be paid at $1.3 million annually in an office with little to no money to spare. The EDC refused to give us the Blueware records, thus we had to have civil litigation with Hewlett Packard (settled), the EDC over Blueware records (virtually settled) and Blueware itself (ongoing). An extremely large portion of the office had been outsourced (with little savings) and were brought back the first month. By month three we made decisions on the employees hired by the contractor and brought most of them in as regular employees. Contracts on insurance, webpage ads, cloud storage, as well as the staffing, had to be eliminated. The State was beginning the mandating of electronic filings, and we were almost one million dollars behind on computer hardware replacement and software upgrades. Our guys worked hard through the various problems to be able to resume standard operations.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: What are some of the things that you have accomplished at the Clerk’s office that you are most proud of?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: I believe early on we re-established the financial role of the Clerk in Brevard County. Needless to say the then County Manager certainly expected it as the Board within my first few months in office eliminated all funding for our office for internal audit. I understood that was their prerogative, but through the prudent use of other fees we managed to perform a number of quality audits and evaluations. We have worked to make our office one of the most user friendly Clerk’s Offices in the State of Florida both with information available online and through our customer service counters and information call center. We were at the forefront in the state making the transition to electronic filings and our staff has been thoroughly engaged in embracing the new technology. The people in our office get the work done, my job is to direct traffic and give them breathing room to get things done. From the first day I arrived we flattened the management pyramid into probably the flattest structure in Brevard County. A good manager trusts their employees to know their job and do their job without layers of oversight and second guessing.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: How have the large budget cuts that your office had to bear in 2015 affected the service to the tax payers? Have things improved with the budget since then?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: Our budget will not be improving. In 2015 we went from $13.7 million from the state to $13.1 million, mid-year cut. Three weeks ago we were mid-year cut again to $12.7 million, and expect to lucky to be at $12.3 million come October. In 2008 we were at $17.4 million. We have survived by taking more and more functions electronic, the state’s mandating of electronic filing is all that saved us. It is unfortunate but we cannot respond as quickly to telephone inquiries and at times the customer service lines get longer. We have been unable to replace many senior employees who retired and experienced employees who may have left, slowing down courts processing. Our employees have stepped up to the plate to work with the new technologies without which we’d have been sunk.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: What is the most up-to-date news about the lawsuit with the EDC? What do you think will be the eventual outcome?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: The EDC agreed to provide the remainder of any documents within 45 days. This has not been a dynamite fishing expedition by the Clerk’s Office. Our office was out $7 million involving a firm which the EDC claims to have fully financially vetted. We have sought now for over three years the results of said vetting. I expect we will get the information from the EDC, and if not it brings into serious questions the processes used to evaluate a firm which was eligible for up to $4.2 million in local and state cash on the barrelhead (not ad valorem tax rebates) dollars.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your professional plans for the future as you come to the end of your term in office?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: It is difficult to say. I only operate at two speeds, all on or all off. I do not do well with in between, and all on all the time can be wearing. I have to accept there are only so many things I can change, and after years of this it is tough to recognize that while people like me are extremely common in Brevard County, they are rare in political office.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: Would you consider another term as a Brevard County Commissioner?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: I had hoped to do so. The County Commission is a full-time job. When I won in 1992 I quit my job as a contractor at Grumman. It was not just meetings of the Board and meetings with the public, a good County Commissioner takes the time to know the County operations, facilities, and people. Now the job has been dismissed as part-time and what should be full day meetings are typically in by 9 a.m. and out by lunch. While our Board of the early 1990’s had many varying views we all accepted the County Commission job came first. Even Commissioner Scarborough, an attorney, often took numerous calls in his office, as did later Commissioner O’Brien. For the rest of us the County Commission was our only job, and Brevard County our only priority. None of us took trips anywhere as we understood our jobs were here.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your dreams and wishes for Brevard County in the future?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: I loved growing up in a Brevard County where we all enjoyed a great deal of freedom from onerous rules and regulations. We have a wonderful place to live and do not need the government dictating our sheds and citing us for pitifully minor violations of various rules. I still hope for the primary role of local government, from Clerk to Commissioners to the Cities, to handle well the few (but at times costly) duties where government is needed and leave the fluff and pomp to the private sector.
Q: SPACE COAST DAILY: What advice do you have for those people who are considering a career working for county government?
A: SCOTT ELLIS: Many jobs in County government are comparable to jobs in the private sector. Clerical, technical, customer service, trades, financial, all are jobs found in both places. The primary difference is working for the County is like working for a large firm, such as Grumman or Publix, where your success and promotions will come over time. Things will not be near instant as they can be in small entrepreneurial firms. In the regulatory areas one must recognize the job is to work with the public, not rule the public, and do not let strict idiotic interpretation of rules overrule common sense. There are many opportunities within County Government and the Constitutional Officers to find the job best suiting your skills and personality, neither government nor the private sector is any longer tied down to the deep hierarchical structures of the 1960’s, neither has the money anymore to do so.
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