Get Out of Town: The County Courhouse Computer System

Over the course of the last two or three years, there have been a number of press releases…I mean news stories…bragging about how high-tech this state is when it comes to its computer system. I’m here to say don’t believe the hype.
This story begins around six weeks ago when I received that little reminder card concerning the license plates of the Hudsonland Jeep. Although I intended to mail in my payment to avoid visiting the county courthouse, in typical Hudson fashion I blew it off. When I realized this weekend that Tuesday was the last day for me to purchase my tags, I prepared myself for the annual misery of a lengthy line.
I showed up at at the courthouse a little after one, and the line was already halfway down to the north end of the building. Luckily, my son and mother were already there because we had another transaction so I took my place just to the left of the entrance.
Fifteen minutes later, we had not moved. A courthouse employee…I believe it may have even been the county auditor…appeared with a clipboard and announced that the computers were down and the wait could be ten minutes…or it could be over an hour. It was at this point that I started to get a bit impatient.
A few minutes later, we started to see some movement. Not much movement, however, as it was obviously smoke break time for the majority of the vehicle registration staff. Only two out of close to a dozen windows were open. Gradually, we moved forward until we were in the front of the line. Then the computers once again froze.
This time around, it took only a couple of minutes for the computer system to reboot…but they were working at the snail’s pace of a McDonald’s drive-through. We finally made our way to the counter, where the clerk informed us that this is a normal occurrence on the last couple of days of the month. With every county seat at their busiest on these days (although I have my doubts that some of those West River county seats ever see more than a person or two on their worst day) the system in Pierre just can’t keep up.
But Pierre supposedly never admits that they have a problem. The clerk explained that whenever they call about computer crashes they deny there are any problems. Well, I’ve been to Pierre. It’s a real life Fargo, the movie. Those people would never notice if their mainframes blew up and started on fire. And if it did, they would just stare at it in amazement.
“Well, Jed, what the heck should we do?”
“I don’t know, Otto. Maybe we should call that computer-fixer guy.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just runnin’ a little hot.”
“Yeah, and Frank the computer man said he was goin’ fishin’. He told me any problems can wait until Monday.”
“I’ll just pour some water on it to cool it off.”
I begin my transaction, and when the clerk asked for my cash I whipped out my bank card. I’m not informed that they don’t take Visa or Mastercard, so for me to use my card I’d have to us it as a debit card. Unfortunately, I’ve never used it as a debit card so I have no clue as to my PIN number. I have enough cash on me, though, so I hand it over.
At this point, the computer is running so slow that I now have to wait for it to spit out my new registration. Instead of a few seconds, it takes longer to communicate with Pierre and print this out than it does for my mother and son to complete a bill of sale and title transfer. Of course, we now have to wait for that to also print.
If this was an isolated incident, I would have no reason to complain. As the famous saying goes, shit happens. I knew this would be no quick visit, and I was prepared for it, and computer do occasionally break down. But this is not something that should happen at the end of every month. Around the time that this was becoming a problem in the biggest cities in the state – Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown – there should have been some action to improve and/or upgrade the mainframe in Pierre. I guarantee you that the computer system that runs video lottery is immediately upgraded when needed.
Beyond the computer problems, there also needs to be some improvements in the staffing of the courthouse. For years, the lax staffing and multiple coffee/smoke/lunch breaks has been a running joke. I had been told that the added hours on Saturday had helped reduce the lines, but when I took my son to get his driver’s license changed from a learner’s permit to a real license last week I noticed a pretty lengthy line that afternoon. If breaks are keeping these lines closed, maybe there should be a couple extra people around to fill in these gaps. There’s no excuse for only two or three windows open when there’s a line running almost the entire length of the building.
One more quick bitch before my security team leads me safely to my vehicle. I have nothing against the YMCA’s clothing drive, but if I’ve said no to their pickup every month for the last ten years, why am I still on their list for calls? Shouldn’t somebody be purging the names of non-responsive people so that not only is my time not wasted but also their volunteers? Just a thought.


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