By Dynele Schinker-Kuharich, Chapter 13 Standing Trustee (Canton, OH)
I vividly remember getting the call that I was to be appointed as a Standing Chapter 13 Trustee (effective October 1, 2018). I was so honored, and humbled, and excited. At the time I was a panel Chapter 7 Trustee, but my heart had always been in Chapter 13. As corny as it sounds, being a Chapter 13 Trustee really was my dream job. Almost immediately I was contacted by Chapter 13 Trustees from around the country with congratulatory remarks, telling me I had just landed the best job in the world. I thought so, too – and then came the avalanche. In month one I had to move my office (yes, literally relocate the entire office by October 31), and by the end of December I had to part ways with my senior case analyst and my (only) staff attorney. Those were necessary but tough losses. Also, in December, I almost lost my husband (which is really only relevant to understand my state of mind). In early January, with my husband’s health stabilized, at the literal last minute I registered for and attended the NACTT Mid-Year in Ojai, CA. Most of the members didn’t know me, but they welcomed me, they listened, they commiserated, and they helped me realize that we all struggle with the transition in one way or another – I was certainly not alone. Because of the NACTT membership, I came back to my office empowered and rejuvenated. I will never be able to thank my NACTT colleagues enough for who they are, and for the support that they provided to me those days.
The rest of year one passed quietly as I filled vacancies and worked to train the new staff, and my first audit went well, which was a huge relief. Toward the end of my first year, I utilized the NACTT Trustee Outreach program. I worked with the Committee to arrange an office visit from two seasoned Trustees with similar office environments. They spent two days at my office talking with my staff and me about the office operations, and they made some very valuable observations and suggestions. I would HIGHLY recommend that process to every new Trustee (and to every not so new Trustee). It’s a very informal process with no written report or recommendations. Take their advice or don’t, but it’s always good to listen to other perspectives.
Throughout my second year as Trustee, I began to utilize some of the Trustee Outreach Committee’s suggestions. Probably the biggest of these changes was the fact that I hired an outside accountant and removed the in-house accountant. That was another stressful transition, but now that we’re on the other side of it, I really wish I had done it sooner. It costs less and adds an additional layer of accountability. Plus, without a staff accountant, I was able to be way more hands on this year, especially with the audit process. I had the opportunity to learn some particulars that I probably never would have seen, and to implement some adjustments that are making the office run more efficiently. I would strongly recommend that every Trustee, especially the new(er) Trustees, take some time to genuinely review every interoffice accounting procedure to intimately understand how items are being handled, and to identify opportunities to improve financial efficiency.
My second year was not unlike everyone else’s year in that it also presented challenges and opportunities that no one foresaw due to both the BLM movement and the COVID-19 virus. From a staffing perspective, in what seemed to be the blink of an eye we acquired the hardware and software necessary to work remotely as much as possible. With the help of our NACTT colleagues, we developed written policies for working remotely, and for transitioning out of the office, and then back in the office, including office hygiene and social distancing policies. Again with input from our NACTT colleagues, we developed policies and procedures for remote 341 meetings, and all of it seems to work really well. So far everyone in my office has managed to stay physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic; and working remotely has given us the opportunity to find a new balance between work and home – one that may continue after the COVID-19 risks have subsided. This past year we also as an office recognized the importance of having a continuing dialogue about race in America. As a part of this dialogue, we (voluntarily) read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis (books suggested by NACTT colleagues), and then had voluntary open discussions about the books. Our discussions also focused on personal life experiences in an effort for each of us to gain perspective.
Our second year audit went well, and while the case counts are still low, budgetarily we are in a decent place. I am thankful to have two years under my belt, and I am even more thankful to have my NACTT colleagues to brainstorm and otherwise share ideas. This job really is the best job in the world, and a large part of what makes it the best is having the resources presented by the NACTT and its members.
Dynele L. Schinker-Kuharich, Esq., is the Standing Chapter 13 Trustee for the Northern District of Ohio at Canton. Prior to her appointment in 2018, Ms. Schinker-Kuharich was a member of the panel of Chapter 7 Trustees for the Northern District of Ohio, and was also an attorney in private practice where she concentrated her client representation on bankruptcy and consumer law issues for over 19 years. Ms. Schinker-Kuharich was an adjunct professor at The University of Akron School of Law, and has frequently spoken at seminars on topics related to bankruptcy and consumer law. Ms. Schinker-Kuharich is a member of the National Association of Chapter Thirteen Trustees, the American Bankruptcy Institute, and the Stark County Bar Association. She is a former member of the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, the Portage County Bar Association, and the Akron Bar Association where she was past Chair of the Commercial Law Section.