Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lehigh County's Superclerk of Judicial Records? Get Real

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI was always under the impression that Northampton County was the Lehigh Valley's goofy county. I've even been told that Lehigh County's motto is "We're not Northampton County." But now Lehigh County is mounting a serious challenge to Northampton County's title with its proposal to combine Clerk of Courts, Recorder of Deeds and Register of Wills into a single office known as Clerk of Judicial Records. Voters decide this question on November 7.

The Morning Call tells us combining three offices into one will "modernize a portion of county government" and save taxpayers at least $100,000 per year. It will do neither.

What Lehigh County officials propose is actually a throwback to our dark colonial period. During that time, the prothonotary was the county's hot shot. He served as clerk of common pleas court, quarter sessions court, and orphans court, as well as county recorder and register of wills. He also held a commission as justice of the peace and served as judge in common pleas court. It didn't take too long before records were misplaced. About half of Northampton County's colonial records disappeared. Some of them eventually surfaced in Philadelphia. Worse, centralizing all this power in one person led to abuses. And as Pennsylvania grew, the functions in each of these row offices became impossible for one person. These separate row officers are actually the result of a "modernization" that occurred over 180 years ago.

This superclerk proposal creates a new chief who will be hopelessly incompetent to deal with the intricacies of three very different offices that perform different functions and use different systems. It will actually create another layer of bureaucracy that ends up costing money.

I spoke with several Lehigh County title searchers, and they universally condemned this proposal. "You really have to have a particular insight into what each office is used for. The Recorder of Deeds, who specializes in that office, can cater to the public to provide exactly what that office is designed to do. But the further up you go, the less knowledge and insight people are going to have into what the offices must do."

This proposal is being pushed by Commissioner Andy Roman and Executive Don Cunningham, who formed "Citizens for Smarter Government." I'll tell you what's smart about that committee. Cunningham and Roman are both politically ambitious. They see this as a way to further their careers. Even in Northampton County, it's no secret that Roman wants to be county executive and Cunningham wants to be governor. This might be smart for them, but not the rest of us.

Cunningham and Roman will tell you their Superclerk idea has "bi-partisan support." That's because Roman is Republican and Cunningham is Democrat. The truth is that both the local Democratic and Republican parties urge a "NO" vote.

Lehigh County won't get a superclerk. They'll just see the Peter principle in action. And that's not good government.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you Bernie. This position would end up costing the taxpayers more money because one person could not handle the job and he or she would need to hire more deputies. The $100,000 savings is just from elimineting two salaries.
Also, anyone want to tell me how they solve the problem that these offices are in different buildings. They run different computer systems. They do not even have the same copy card system.
Cunningham and the commissioners are are the same people who just wasted taxpayer money by getting health benefits for the county solictor and chief public defender. The county solictor is a wealthy attorney and partner in one of the biggest firms in the LV. I am sure he can afford his own health insurance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:53, Thanks for your comments. Now, we're getting somewhere. I am so happy to hear from someone whose pulse is on the LC government center.

What you just pointed out is a clear demonstration that the exec's motivation is not saving money, or he would never get health care for wealthy attorneys on his staff. He and Andy Roman are instead motivated by political ambition.

Thanks for your insight. Really appreciated.

Anonymous said...

You vote this in and you are going to get someone in that knows nothing about these 3 offices. Plus the 3 offices have 3 different computer systems and you would need to get all new computer systems! When Joe Public comes in to the office, they want to talk to a supervisor about their office, not someone that knows nothing! It would be passed on to a deputy!!! Plus in Lehigh County the deputies make more money than the Recorder, so what they would do is hire more deputies to work the offices. SO, do you think they would be saving more money!!! I don't think so!!!! I have done my homework on this too!

Anonymous said...

I failed to mention that the county solicitor and chief public defendar are part-time positions.
Cunningham wanted full-time benefits for these postions. There was a compromise and they get health benefits that some part-time employees get. The commissioners did not want to set a precedent.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 11:57, Thanks for your clarification.

Anonymous said...

This is a really bad idea. One person in charge of all those fees, and who will be watching them? Right now there are checks and balances, you make one position, you are asking for trouble. I say leave it alone, don't open it up to becoming a place to pay off contributors.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:04, Exactly! In NC, we just had a clerk who was able to embezzle at least $80k. When we eliminate the control that individual row officers provide, that will becaome even more likely. We should learn from our history instead of blindly returning to a system we rejected long ago.

ryan said...

Do you think this is similar in feel to the Gulf war question we'll be seeing on the ballot? Is this a way to pass the buck on and make the citizens do the budget work instead of those that are supposed to? We didn't set aside any money but if you want to we'll borrow the money and you can pay for it over the next 30 years...

Anonymous said...

Just hearing this mornings broadcast on T.V. and Radio, that NOW, what Cunningham's people want to do to lower the prices for the people in Lehigh County is get rid of all but 1 deputy for all 3 offices and eliminate 20 personel.
Tell me, JUST WHO will run these COUNTY OFFICES in the Recorder of Deeds, Prothonothory, and Register of Wills!!!! IMPOSSIBLE TO DO!! Someone who knows!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

If this is Cunningham's plan, he's just lost a lot of votes. County employees in the row offices tend to be dedicated and underpaid employees who give a county its flavor. They are the ones who furnish the services, not the judges or the exec or the commissioners. If this is really his plan, he's lost touch.