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New money for an old job: After ‘fighting fires’ every day, circuit clerk’s office gets Ellen Cook back thanks to new funding

Things in the Marengo County Circuit Clerk’s office still aren’t completely back to normal yet, but they’re getting there — thanks to a little help from the governor.

“It’s been like fighting a fire around here everyday from 8 to 4:30,” said Circuit Clerk Robert “Rusty” Nichols.

Back in November Nichols received an e-mail from the Administrative Office of Courts that Ellen Cook, one of the employees in the circuit clerk’s office, was being laid off due to the state’s money woes.

Cook was one of nearly 250 court system employees statewide who were laid off. About half of those workers were rehired this week thanks to a $5.3 million conditional appropriation released by the governor’s office.

Cook returned to work Monday.

Earlier last year, Nichols’ office had lost a second employee, Barbara Raymond. Together, the two positions had handled some 4,000 cases a year. When Cook was laid off that workload was shifted onto the three remaining employees — Linda Beshears, Jackie Ward and Andre Cobb.

“These three ladies just went the extra mile,” said a grateful Nichols. “Had they not been willing to work as hard as they did and to not take any days off, things would have been a lot rougher than they were. But they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.”

Nichols also singled out Lisa Anderson, with Judge Wade Drinkard’s office, for praise. “She pitched in and helped us out a lot,” he said, “going over to district court or small claims court or just whatever we needed done.”

Nichols said that while things have been hectic in Cook’s absence, the circuit clerk’s office remains more or less current with its caseload — unlike some other jurisdictions in which the time to handle such routine tasks as processing a divorce began taking two and three times as long as it did prior to the layoffs.

“I appreciate the public’s being patient with us during this time,” Nichols said. “We’re just tickled to have Ellen back and we look forward to having our office staff back to 100 percent strength.”