New clerk of court saves office $400k after 23 employees leave, and expands courthouse service

Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-17 13:13:39-04

CINCINNATI -- Just 100 days after taking office as the first Democrat to win as Hamilton County Clerk of Court in more than a century, Aftab Pureval is making some big, and somewhat controversial, changes.

He fired 15 employees, brought in big business brainpower, revised the website, added Saturday hours, cut the price of public documents, and expanded what residents can do online.

“We’ve really transformed the office. We had a commitment to cut costs and we’re doing that already,” said Pureval, who campaigned with the help of a talking duck puppet and a promise to streamline an office that oversees millions of court records.

Pureval, a former Procter & Gamble attorney who beat incumbent Republican Tracy Winkler in a surprising election upset, ignited controversy very soon after he took office on Jan. 3 by firing several high-level deputies.

“The culture of nepotism and patronage was strong here,” said Pureval, who fired 15 employees and eight others left voluntarily. “In my view the office had been mismanaged for several years and it was our charge to come in here and clean it up.”

But Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Alex Triantafilou described the mass firings as “bloodletting.”

“He is made cuts to longtime, effective public servants,” said Triantfilou, who served as chief deputy in the office from 2003 to 2005 under former Clerk of Court Greg Hartmann.

“Morale is very poor," Triantafilou said. "There is constant fear from committed public servants … that an arbitrary firing could happen. These are not high level political appointees. They are civil servants.”

Pureval said the firings were necessary to change the culture of the office and streamline operations.

“The voters … sent me here for change,” Pureval said. “In order to create real change and change the culture of nepotism and political patronage you have to hire and bring in a new team. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Pureval, who was a former assistant federal prosecutor in Cincinnati before joining P&G, said he’s using private sector thinking to right-size the office and make it more efficient.

He brought in three courthouse outsiders – all executives from Fortune 500 companies -- to fill the top finance, human relations and technology jobs at the clerk’s office.

“The decisions we’re making about hiring, salaries, promotions -- they’re all merit based,” Pureval said. “They have nothing to do with who you’re related to or who you supported in the last election and I’m very proud of that.”

Those personnel changes also resulted in saving the office $400,000. He’s using some of that money for new technology to modernize the office.

Here are some of the big changes:

  • By May 1, residents will be able to appeal parking tickets online. In the coming years, they will be able to pay traffic tickets online.
  • The auto title division will be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.
  • All requests for public documents up to 100 pages are now free.
  • A self-help legal clinic, funded by the county and staffed by young lawyers from the Cincinnati Bar Association, will open later this year to give free help on simple cases such as small claim disputes and landlord and tenant issues.