The Leader reported this week that Robert Wilkins, new presiding judge of the 23rd Circuit (which covers Jefferson County) and a Democrat, wants Jeanette McKee to be appointed as a “liaison” between the judges and new circuit court clerk Mike Reuter. Reuter defeated McKee, who has been top deputy in the office for the past 15 years, in the November election to win the clerk job. This puts McKee (the Democratic candidate) in the position to be working under the man who defeated her, a situation which could indeed be awkward for both individuals.
Wilkins’ stated reasoning for this is that the office can’t function without McKee and that her “contributions might be diminished or she might depart” unless her position is changed. This sounds to me like a bit of a stunt, though. First of all, why is this even appearing in the paper? Wilkins says he mentioned this idea “in general terms” to Reuter, and states that Reuter said he wasn’t going to make a decision at that time. But a month later, Wilkins hasn’t gotten an answer, so he runs to a reporter? It seems to me that the only way the Leader could have written this story is if Wilkins tipped them off. As Wilkins states in the article, he hasn’t even discussed this with the other judges yet, even though they would have to approve of this plan, which isn’t even fleshed out. As Wilkins told the paper, he and Reuter “didn’t talk about anything specific.” And Reuter hasn’t even assumed office yet. Let the guy have a cup of coffee before he starts making major changes to the org chart. So for Wilkins to complain to the paper that he’s gotten no answer from Reuter, and to state “I can only assume he thinks it’s a bad idea” is quite premature.
But second, this seems like a scheme to perhaps make McKee’s life easier. Instead of working under Reuter, she would work in this vague intermediary position between him and the judges, technically reporting to Reuter but in reality being at least half responsible to the judges. And of course, part of the theatrics of this involve outgoing clerk Howard Wagner, who supports this plan just as he supported McKee’s candidacy (in a way that drew a lawsuit from a fired employee). Did Wilkins tell him about his idea? I wonder if perhaps this liaison job would be a better perch from which to mount another run for the office in 2016?
Third, this reminds me of the famous “what would you say you do here” scene from the movie “Office Space.” Couldn’t the judges just liaison directly with Reuter? Isn’t that part of the job? Doesn’t he have people skills? Wouldn’t McKee’s purported valuable skills be better utilized within the clerk’s office, in her current deputy role, helping the new guy get up to speed with the various divisions of the office? Instead, this “liaison” position would have her doing other duties. The fact that this article was printed suggests a plot to make Reuter look bad, to undermine his position as head of the office, and to move McKee to a more comfortable position with less oversight from and interaction with Reuter. The fact that Leader editorial page editor Pat Martin, who we know was not happy with the results of the November election, “contributed information to this story,” as a note explains, suggests that he may have served as a “liaison” to get this story printed. I must say though that perhaps Reuter would be better off to have a deputy with whom he can have greater trust and expect greater loyalty. It would make for more effective management.
Clerk’s Office Retirements
The article also lists four longtime clerk’s office employees that will be retiring. One of the four, Linda Schilly, supervisor of court clerks, was involved in a smear letter written to the Countian (a legal newspaper) before the election (see story in the October 10 edition). Schilly and four other clerk’s office employees wrote that the fact that Reuter was arrested for “spousal abuse” should disqualify him from office. They did not mention that no charges were filed, and thus there was no conviction, and that the arrest was about 14 years ago. They also didn’t say what they thought about the charges that are currently active against McKee’s husband.
I can see why Schilly might want to leave, to avoid some awkwardness. But the other four signers of the letter were not among those who have announced their retirements, so there may be plenty of awkwardness to go around.