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.