Watson Lowe Impedes Attempts to Computerize McHenry County Treasurer’s Office

Yesterday, McHenry County Blog related how McHenry County Board Chairman Watson Lowe told her it was time to leave the county board room when business was about to get under way

Later, when Lowe, an Assistant Supervisor from Algonquin Township, was Finance Committee Chairman, he ran the committee I reported to as McHenry County Treasurer at the beginning of my term from 1966-70.

It didn’t take long before I decided that the Treasurer’s Office should be computerized. So I brought up the subject with the committee when my 1968 budget was being discussed in the summer of 1967.

At the time we were using Address-O-Graph and NCR machines to prepare the tax bills. The Treasurer’s Office did the Address-O-Graph part of the tax preparation process and the County Clerk’s Office finished it off with the NCR machines.

That year Lowe told me he wasn’t sure computers were here to stay. (Consider the irony there, with his son George being really into computers.)

In 1968, I asked again and Lowe had another objection. He said that we didn’t have a room for a computer in the Treasurer’s Office.

So, I discovered a room in the Courthouse Annex (now, the Woodstock City Hall) basement filed with old tax and assessment books under my control.

I got permission from the Secretary of State’s Local Records people to discard the assessment books. (The County Treasurer used to assess property before what I suspect were blatant favoritism led to the legislative creation of the more professional Supervisor of Assessment system.)

We microfilmed the tax collection books, whose records had to be retained, and bought a $3,000 safe to protect the reels.

So, Lowe’s objection about lack of room was met.

I offered the old assessment and tax collection books to all the local libraries, but, as I remember, only Algonquin’s took me up on the offer.

Finally, Dorr Township Supervisor Ed Buckley, a successful local dry cleaner, got appointed chairman of the Finance Committee.

Buckley was considerably more progressive.

By then I had figured out that the brand new tape feed Address-O-Graph plate maker I inherited in December, 1966, when I took office could be used to prepare punched tape that could be converted to something more suitable for a computer.

So, the last year I was in office, I had my staff typing property tax identification information on the Address-O-Graph key board, creating lots of punched paper tape, which we had a service bureau, I think, massage. I guess we ended up with punch cards

By the last two tax years, I had also figured out that I had the authority to put MICR numbers on the tax bills. That’s the same system used on the bottom of checks. With MICR the bills would no longer have to be sorted by hand before hand posting of tax payments.

In exchange for the deposit of some money, first in a Chicago bank, and, then, in a lower bidding Rockford bank, I took the paid bills to the banks in my 1964 Pontiac, waited for them to be sorted and then ferried them back to the Courthouse on the Square.

Nothing more than a beginning toward computerization of the Treasurer’s Office, but, with Watson Lowe throwing up roadblocks, maybe I accomplished more than would have been expected.

Oh, did I mention that I was in my 20’s and he was in his 60’s.

Might have been something of a culture clash there.

I never had a culture clash with Julie Covert, though.


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