Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Check-Writing in McHenry County

I have a fairly short leash for stupid things and, when I started receiving small checks from McHenry County payable to PHILPOTT GUS, I wondered why. These checks are a small stipend from a project of the Mental Health Board, where families participate and provide input for, hopefully, improving mental health services to residents of McHenry County.

After inquiring of the organization and also with one of my District 5 County Board representatives, I thought the problem was fixed. My checks began arriving, addressed to GUS PHILPOTT.

I was naive enough to think that the problem had been addressed and that all who receive these stipends would thereafter receive checks payable to them as FIRSTNAME LASTNAME. Right?

Wrong! I learned that only my check was changed and that others continue to receive checks payable to LASTNAME FIRSTNAME.

This morning I called McHenry County Government Center. Payroll transferred me to the Auditor's Dept., which tried to transfer me to the Purchasing Dept. I ended up at the State's Attorney's office! I called back and got the receptionist inthe Purchasing Dept., who told me that it is set up that way so that someone searching for a last name can find the person for whom they are looking.

How old, ancient, archaic is the County's computer system? Are they still using punch cards?

This is a very simple programming issue. You look for the field that reads FIRSTNAME and that's where you put the person's first name. With me so far? Then you look for the field that reads LASTNAME, and that's where you put the person's last name? Am I going too fast for you?

Then you tell the computer to print checks with the FIRSTNAME first and the LASTNAME second, with a space in-between. OK? Still with me?

And, when you are searching for a person, you search the LASTNAME field for the last name. What kind of programmers are there at the County offices? Or what kind of software did they buy, if it doesn't permit this?

I hate things that are done just "because that's how we've always done it."

I was reminded of a temp job I had in Richmond, Va., before moving to Woodstock in 1996.

Every night an insurance company printed 1,100 pages, double-sided, and then I was supposed to search one column for entries and list them. They had been doing this for years.

I asked why the programmer didn't just sort and print only the rows with data in the certain column. The answer was that they'd never done it that way. I contacted a CPA "upstairs". She was outraged at the waste, and the next day (and thereafter) only 10 pages were printed with all the needed data.

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