County nixes combining clerk, register of deeds offices.

January 25, 2020

County nixes combining clerk, register of deeds offices.

#OceanaCounty

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The Oceana County Board of Commissioners unanimously rejected the idea of combining the county clerk and register of deeds offices during regular session Thursday, Jan. 23.

Combining the two offices would save the county approximately $40,000-$50,000 annually, said Oceana County Administrator Robert Sobie.

“Voters would decide who the elected clerk/register would have been if the proposed had advanced further based on who filed to run for the office,” Sobie said.

The register of deeds position is held by Rick Hodges, and the county clerk is Amy Anderson.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board heard from Newaygo County Register of Deeds Stewart Sanders, who is president of the Michigan Association of Registers of Deeds, Inc. “I urge you not to combine the offices,” Sanders said.

Livingston County Register of Deeds Brandon Denby, who serves as second vice president of the Michigan Association of Registers of Deeds, also voiced his opposition to the proposed move.

“It creates an inefficiency between the two offices,” Denby said. Combining the two offices also “removes the voice of the people,” and “the security of documents is compromised.”

Denby cited issues with “efficiency, security and customer service” when the two offices merge. “If this were to ever go forward you would have to change your mission statement.”

Of 83 counties in Michigan, 36 have combined the two offices. “I’ve never received a report after combining that any money was saved,” he said.

“The clerk and register of deeds have nothing to do with each other,” said Clare County Clerk/Register of Deeds Lori Martin. Since the two offices combined in her county, the register of deeds duties have been neglected, she said, due to clerk responsibilities, such as elections and courts, taking a higher focus.

“There are many responsibilities for this position,” said Roscommon County Clerk/Register of Deeds Michelle Stevenson, who is the first vice president for the Michigan Association of Registers of Deeds. “Choosing two offices that have nothing to do with each other will definitely require more staff.”

The state association passed a resolution Jan. 14 that opposes combining the two offices.

“It appears in an effort to cut costs, county commissions across the state are exploring the possibility of combining the county clerk and register of deeds offices,” the resolution states.

“The Michigan Association of Registers of Deeds, Incorporated affirms that these are two distinctly different constitutional offices with priorities and duties that should not be integrated together due to their unique responsibilities.”

“The duties constantly change and evolve,” said Mason County Clerk Cheryl Kelly. “I ask that you keep the offices separate.”

Oceana County Surveyor Randy Hepworth, who also operates a private surveying company, voiced his opposition to the proposal. “I’ve worked with the register of deeds office for 40 years. Some of those documents are over 100 years old. I understand the needs of financing, but other areas of the county could be addressed before this drastic measure.”

All seven commissioners stated their opposition to combining the two offices, and a public hearing to address the matter was cancelled.

“The savings are not worth the loss,” said Commissioner Robert Walker.

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