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San Mateo County Times

 

November 4, 1996

 

 

 

County Clerk Predicts New Age For Public Efficiency

 

 

Warren Slocum, 47, was elected County Clerk-Recorder in 1986 and took on the additional duties of the Assessor's job in 1993, after voters approved further consolidations. In recent years, Slocum has become one of the strongest boosters for bringing technology into government, a priority he repeated in a pre-election discussion with Times staff writer Dan Seaver.

Q: It's a question for all elected officials, but when did you first know you wanted to be county clerk-assessor-recorder?

A: In 1976, 10 years before I ran. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, self-made business people, and that's what I thought I would do. But in the early '70s I worked on a congressional campaign and that whetted my interest in the public sector. Still, when I came (to San Mateo County), I was actually planning on leaving government to go to work in Silicon Valley.

Q: Doing what?

A: Computers. You know, strike it rich in the computer age. But I found out about a job in elections, and even though I resisted it for a while, I eventually took the job, and worked there until I ran and won.

Q: How do you see technology being used in government?

A: Let's look at the Internet, which is popular right now. Look at Fed Ex. You can go to their Web site, track your own packages anytime day or night. That puts the power of the inquiry in the customer's hands. It drives down the number of calls they get, cutting their costs and it creates an electronic relationship with the customer. The net result is lower cost, better service and creating new relationships.

Q: How would that work in government?

A: One example could be if you wanted to apply to get the assessed value of your home lowered. Right now, you have to come in, fill out some forms, turn them in, and then perhaps subsequently come in for a hearing.

That whole process aches to be on the Internet and the customer would never have to leave home or work.

San Mateo County really should be a national model for new strategies, because this is where the revolution is occurring.

Q: Can that happen, or do laws or fears of change stand in the way?

A: Voter registration could be done online. Voting on the Internet could occur right now. There is the security to do this.

The problem is more a socialscience problem. It is not just resistance by (California Secretary of State) Bill Jones, but a whole mindset that says "We are used to a hierarchical bureaucracy. This is the way we did it in the agrarian age, and this is the way we are going to do it in the information age." People who work at Oracle, at Smart Valley and at Sun MicroSystems are fundamentally doing work differently than we are doing it here.

Government needs leadership that understands what is going on in the marketplace and then applying that.

Q: What is keeping that from happening?

A: Legislators who tend to be older, who tend not to understand what is really going on, are the ones in power right now. And it is not until younger people get into office in school districts, harbor districts, boards of supervisors, the Assembly and Congress that the dynamic will start to change.

Q: What have you done so far in terms of technology?

A: We have put a lot of information about our department on the Internet.

One of the things that separates us from most Web sites in America is that we allow you to transact business with us online. For example, you can request a voter registration card; you can request an assessment adjustment; you can request a fictitious business name form.

Still, we have only scratched the surface. But the government's attitude is standing in the way of what consumers are demanding, expecially here.

The Internet doesn't replace anything it just gives you another option. It's like Burger King, "you can have it your way." If we are talking about voting, you can go to the polls, do it by Internet or do it in the mail. We are not going to force you into one size fits all.

Q: How do you see people's relationship with government. Is voter apathy a big problem here?

A: I think we are moving away from that. But people here are somewhat unique. Our turnout in 1992 was very high, 82 percent. Our absentee totals are already double what they were in 1992. I see more and more people becoming engaged, not necessarily with just government, but with community.

Q: How does government encourage involvement, besides technology?

A: I am married to a Latina and that side of my family all grew up in the barrio in Redwood City, where there is a lot of poverty. Reaching out with high technology isn't going to work there, because a fear of government exists. But I have learned that bringing people into government is a battle of one person at a time, like it is in many other places.

My model is as sort of an activist government, trying to bring people in.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I don't know. Being Secretary of State is one of the things that might interest me because I am concerned about the direction of the current administration. Bill Jones ran on a platform of fighting voter fraud. But I defy you to show me one issue of voter fraud in the state of California.

The state the other day sent out a memo suggesting we should compare our phone book listing to our voter files, to check for mismatches. In the technology age, in the heart of Silicon Valley, that is not the way to do business. But that is an example of what is coming out of Sacramento in this area. If people at Sun, at Genentech, at Oracle, at Electronic Arts heard about this, they would laugh me out of town.

Q: Are your ideas about technology being embraced elsewhere in the county in government?

A: I don't think it is happening. I search the Web quite a bit. I don't hear people saying we need to embrace technology the way I do. I really feel like I have a message to deliver, although I don't know quite how I am going to deliver it yet.