Cass County Clerk finds new solutions to serve the community

CASSOPOLIS — Since COVID-19 hit and state mandates ordering Michiganders to stay at home for anything other than essential services were handed down, Cass County Clerk/Register of Deeds Monica McMichael has been tracking her steps on her Apple watch. The white-banded device has been racking up a higher-than-usual tally, as the Cassopolis native runs back and forth from the county building’s parking lot to her office multiple times a day to keep her office running and serving the public throughout the pandemic.

“I’ve been getting up from my desk a lot more, so that has been good for me,” she said with a laugh. “We have certainly been busy.”

With the county building closed to the public, McMichael and her team have had to get creative with how they serve the public. Intending to provide all usual services to the public throughout the pandemic, McMichael and her staff are in the office before 8 a.m. each day looking for alternative solutions when residents cannot walk into the office. When she is not handling business over the phone or via video conferencing, McMichael is rushing to meet people who called ahead at the door or handling business curbside in the parking lot. 

This week, her office has been especially busy collecting filings from candidates looking to run for office in the August primary and helping small businesses obtain paperwork needed to apply for stimulus funding.

“Things have certainly changed since we originally closed to the public. At first, I wasn’t sure how everything was going to work,” McMichael said, sitting at her desk inside the Cass County Administration Building during a brief moment of downtime. “We were originally going to do essential services, but we quickly realized that wasn’t going to cut it. … I was trying to respond to what the public wanted, and they want their services. We are still doing everything we normally do, just doing it a little bit differently.”

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, McMichael said she and her team have settled into a groove, and business is running smoothly.

“I’m glad we are able to be here and to help,” she said. “I love Cass County, and I love what I do. It’s certainly never the same thing every day. You wear a lot of different hats, and the days fly by.”

Before being elected clerk in 2012, McMichael earned a degree in anthropology. Immediately after graduating college, she had plans to travel but soon found that no place called to her the way her hometown of Cassopolis did.

She eventually went on to follow in her family’s footsteps by becoming clerk. Her great-uncle, Kenneth Poe, was Cass County’s longest-running clerk, serving from 1959 to 1982. In her office, McMichael displays artwork of the Cass County Courthouse painted by Poe. It is dated 1966.

“I’m very proud that I can say he was my great uncle because he was so respected,” McMichael said. “I love to hear the great things people say about him and what a great job he did in Cass County.”

By the time she took over the office once held by Poe, McMichael already had a long career in public service.

When she moved back to Cassopolis after college, she worked for the Cass District Library before coming to the county in the information systems department, where she learned she had a love of technology. In 2006, she began working with then-clerk Barb Runyon on implementing an image digitization program.

“If you can believe it, they still had books and would index by hand,” she recalled. “[The program] has been great for the office and the public. It has allowed us to offer many more services online.”

Since becoming clerk, McMichael said has carried that memory with her as a reminder always to be thinking of creative ways to serve the public and improve services. Now, she is operating on that principle as her office continues to stay open throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

“If there is one thing I would say to our residents, it would be, please reach out to us,” she said. “Whatever they need, we will make it work somehow. We will be creative and find a way to get them what they need.”

Leader Publications is featuring the stories of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic — essential workers, who still go to work every day to serve the public despite the potential danger. To nominate an essential worker, who you think deserves to be featured, email news@leaderpub.com.

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