March 2020 –
“Be optimistic.” Those two words of advice were given to me 35 years ago this month. It was the middle of my junior year in high school when my dad took a new job, which meant I was faced with having to start over in a new school, in a new city, without the support of the friends who were so important to my life at that time. The advice came from one of my teachers who saw how terrified I was to have to leave the security of what was familiar. She promised it would be better if I would approach the upcoming changes with optimism. Her words of advice have always stuck with me, probably because it really was good advice. I went to a new school, met new people who are friends to this day, and decided to go to AIB to become a court reporter. When encountering significant change, whether it is something I want or not, I try to remember to approach it with optimism.
As we begin this 75th anniversary year for USCRA, I see many reasons for optimism about the future of our association. The core mission of USCRA is to advocate for federal official court reporters and to be a resource for them to be able to advocate for themselves. We do that by keeping members informed through their Circuit Representatives about issues happening at the AO and in the judiciary that affect them. We provide two opportunities each year for reporters to earn their continuing education credits while also interacting with other federal officials. We create our own realtime certification tests that are drawn from federal transcripts. We publish a magazine that is filled with relevant content and administer a Facebook page where federal officials can interact with each other for tips or advice. All of these activities are performed by member volunteers on a daily basis and promote the mission of making the lives of federal official court reporters better.
The events of the past year have created challenges that I certainly didn’t expect to encounter during my term as USCRA President. As has been communicated before, William Downs, the former Executive Director of the association, was terminated for cause last August. There was an investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Illinois that led to an Information charging Mr. Downs with wire fraud being filed on December 5, 2019. An arraignment was held on December 19, 2019, at which time a status conference was set for January 29, 2020. The defense attorney requested more time before resolution of the case, and the next status conference is set for March 10, 2020. Until the case is resolved, the Board will continue to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago and will not be commenting on details of the charged offense conduct. The membership will be informed of any significant developments in the case.
Optimism seemed like a luxury last August when we were faced with taking on the duties previously performed by the Executive Director and his support staff. Difficult decisions had to be made by the USCRA Board in order to move forward as an organization. With the help of several USCRA members, we were able to establish a new convention registration link, open a new bank account, get a new mailing address, and hold what turned out to be a wonderful 2019 Annual Convention. It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to have been surrounded by the many dedicated USCRA Board members and volunteers at that time and now.
In trying to understand what brought us to the point we were and how to best move forward, amendments were proposed to the Constitution and Bylaws. The primary focus of the amendments was to separate the position of Secretary-Treasurer into two discrete positions. With the passage of the proposed amendments, we have a Treasurer position that is designed to be in place for a three-year term to provide consistency in financial operations. Joe Rickhoff, the current Seventh Circuit Representative, was appointed by the Board to the Treasurer position. Joe has a background that includes working at a commodities brokerage firm, which gives him an understanding of basic accounting functions and other financial activities that will be invaluable in the performance of the duties of Treasurer for USCRA.
In addition to appointing a Treasurer, the Board has taken a look at every expense of the association and made changes where necessary in an effort to ensure fiscal responsibility for USCRA. One example is discontinuing the 800 number telephone service that USCRA had for many years. We have taken over creation and administration of online forms for membership, conventions, and test registrations and continue to discuss whether to continue both print and digital editions of the TCR. We have established new practices for review and approval of any expenditure of USCRA funds. I am proud to say that USCRA is current with all financial obligations and will continue to operate with fiscal responsibility.
In the coming months, we will be working with an accountant who will help establish appropriate procedures for the Audit Committee. We will continue working with an attorney to have the correct organizational structure and filings in place. Our Membership Committee has a new structure to accomplish the work previously done by the Executive Director’s office and is increasing the efficiency of those duties. While all of these administrative changes are happening, we are planning what promise to be great conventions for 2020. You really should mark your calendar and attend one, if not both, of this year’s conventions.
At the Board meeting in October, we spent considerable time reviewing all aspects of USCRA’s operations. As was discussed at that meeting, this is a great opportunity to look at the practices of the past and decide what we want to keep, modify, or discontinue. Make no mistake, this is still a work in progress, so I encourage everyone to reach out to me or any other member of the Board to share your ideas. I have heard from several members over the last few months, and I genuinely appreciate the feedback. Whether critical or complimentary, it is important for the Board to hear from you. It is an exciting time to be involved in shaping the future of this amazing organization, so I encourage you to reach out and get involved.
Merriam Webster defines optimism as “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.” From my vantage point, I believe USCRA members have every reason to anticipate the best possible outcome for this association and its members. This diamond anniversary year is a perfect time to celebrate the accomplishments of the past as we make positive changes to best serve federal official court reporters in the future. Happy 75th anniversary to USCRA!