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Register of Deeds forum is a sedate affair

Register of Deeds candidates Shannon Baldwin, Evona Kilpatrick and Lee King answered questions at a forum Thursday sponsored by the Republican Party. Register of Deeds candidates Shannon Baldwin, Evona Kilpatrick and Lee King answered questions at a forum Thursday sponsored by the Republican Party.

The only candidate forum devoted to the Henderson County Register of Deeds office was as controversial as the office title suggests.


The three candidates for the county constitutional office answered questions at a forum Thursday night sponsored by the combined Henderson County Republican Party, the Republican Men's Club and the Republican Women's Club at the Opportunity House.
Lee King, who is in charge of delinquent tax collections for the county tax office, paralegal Evona Kilpatrick and former Henderson County commissioner and School Board member Shannon Baldwin are competing for the office in the May 6 primary. One-stop voting starts on Thursday, April 24.
The list of items the three agree on is far longer than the list they differ on. The office is in charge of the records of anyone, colloquially speaking, who is hatched, matched or dispatched — born, married or dead — plus real estate transactions, military discharges and other important but decidedly unsexy documents.
"Well, I hope we haven't bored you too much," Baldwin, who is director of community development for the town of Lake Lure, said in his closing remarks. "I don't know why the position is elected honestly. It's really not about your political philosophy. It's really about administration and knowing the job.
"They have a register deeds certification that you secure once you're elected. There are no qualifications to be register of deeds, except you need to be 21 and a resident here in Henderson County, to run for this office. That's why they have the school where you can go learn about the details."
Local elections watchers have been intrigued by the Register of Deeds office not because it's produced any political fireworks but because it's an open seat and because the candidates seem so evenly matched, each with his or her own assets.
Kilpatrick has worked in the office almost daily for 30 years. King works next door in the tax office and has to engage with the deeds office on a regular basis. Baldwin, who has won two countywide elections and lost a state House primary, is the most experienced politician among the three, though, as he says there is nothing political about the job.
"There's really not a lot of difference between the three of us," King said. "We do pledge to do the best job that we can. I am an employee of Henderson County. I have solved personnel problems. I've been there and done that. I think the Register of Deeds is an important office and I think I have the skill set that would allow me to bring this office into the 21st century."
Kilpatrick returned repeatedly to her own experience in the official archive of red-jacketed record books, birth certificates and death certificates, often referring to the office staff as "we."
"I do have over 30 years with this office," she said. "I would like to take my experience and everything I've learned and pass it along to the ladies that now work in that office. I believe that with my experience and my knowledge we will be a great team."
The candidates unanimously endorsed strong customer service and scanning and putting records on line. Many counties have those records going back decades; Henderson County's go back only to 2005.


Here are excerpts from the Q&A.
What are the most important tasks in the office?

Kilpatrick: "You've got to record things according to general statute. The really important thing is it needs to be a customer service office. I want it to be that when you come in and request something that person can find what you need as quickly as you need it and you can be on your way. And also we need to modernize. I can do the old school books. I can do from old to new and continue on."

King: "I do think it's very important to have customer service." He said he dad a case where he helped a customer in the tax office by pulling up and printing out a death certificate from the Mecklenburg County deeds office. "There's no reason why we can't have that ease of work in Henderson County. That would be one of my goals."

Baldwin: "We need to have at least 30 years of the deeds on line, that's very important for us. The second part is to be customer friendly. ... You have to make sure you're serving them and meeting their needs. I think one other thing that's important is we need a quicker turnaround time on original documents. You come in with your original documents, those documents are not returned to you for another seven to 10 days. Lots of register of deeds offices will scan the documents, give you back the original, or at least give them back much quicker than that."

Would you ever put a document in the public domain where the Social Security number is visible?
King: "Absolutely not. There's no reason you would ever do that. By statute we're allowed to redact that information. ... I will not let it go on line until it is redacted."
Baldwin: "No."
Kilpatrick: "Absolutely not."

Are you a notary?

Only Kilpatrick is a public notary (and "I have been for 25 years.")

In your first budget request in the spring of 2015, will you ask for the same number of people, more people or fewer people?
King: "I would keep the same people they have now and add one more person to it and I'd add some overtime."

Kilpatrick: "I would keep the employees we have now plus I also would add someone. Ms. Moles has done a great job cross-training but we are still understaffed. It grieves me when I am back in the back working and the public comes in and they've been instructed where to go but once you walk into that room and you see a massive amount of books you are lost. We need desperately another person (for customer service) and that includes me. I do not want to do just administration. I want to be a working register. I want to be able to do anything that those girls can do."

Baldwin: "I've pulled HR records on the number of folks who have been in the office for the last five years. Five years ago it was at seven. Right now it's less than five. I also looked at the number of documents that have been recorded over the last five years. We're seeing an uptick in the number of documents that have been recorded. We've decreased staff, we've increased the number of documents that are being recorded so that means the workflow is higher than it has been over the last five years. So it looks like there could be potential for someone to be hired to do some of the work. More importantly, how are you going to get the deeds scanned?"

How far back should the county scan records for online use? After a certain point it would be a waste of money.

King: "I think it's not a waste of money because you never know when you have to go back and find something that goes beyond 30 years. I think it's a good thing to put everything on line and I would go back to 1838 (when Henderson County was founded). It's going to take a little time to get there because we've got to do the images from 2005 first."

Baldwin: "Thirty years (for now). We need to put the time, the money and the energy to do it 30 years so we get the most benefit. After we get that out of the way we need to keep going back as money allows."

Kilpatrick: "From a legal standpoint, maybe it's enough to have 30 to 40 years on line. If you're coming from a different county, whether it's an hour or four hours, you would like to be able to pull up what you need on line. After that, we could go any further. ... I think we just need to start small and work our way back as time and money will allow."