Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lehigh County Gives Title Searchers The Bum's Rush

As hard as you may find this to believe, my career as a bottom-feeding blogger is inadequate to support my jet-setting lifestyle. Sure, it's a rush to sift through elected officials' garbage cans, but aside from leftovers, there's not much money in it. So I'm a title searcher. I'm sure glad it's in Northampton, and not Lehigh County. Let me tell you why.

Lehigh and Northampton have always been different, especially for searchers. In Northampton, any member of the public who regularly uses the Recorder's office can actually rent a locker on a first-come, first-served basis. Searchers chipped in to buy a fax machine, and can send reports to banks and lawyers as soon as they are completed. The floor is carpeted, a Godsend to people who stand all day. But in Lehigh, there's no fax machine, no carpeting and certainly no lockers.

Big deal, you might say. They have no obligation to coddle you. That's certainly true, but Lehigh is actually making it impossible for most searchers to do their job.

Andrea Naugle runs the Recorder's Office. She also runs the Civil Division ... and the Criminal Division ... and the Register of Wills. She's Super Clerk, able to record deeds faster than a speeding bullet. She's Super Clerk, who can change the course of mighty politicians and bend gigantic record books with her bare hands. And in her latest fight in the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way, she's telling what's left of Lehigh County searchers that they shouldn't bother wearing Winter coats when they come to the Recorder's office. She wants them in and out. Deed books, Mortgage Books, and Map Books are all being shipped off to some secret location - she won't say where - and searchers will have 16 computers with which to conduct their searches. If they need to see a hard copy of something, it will take a week. No personal conversation will be tolerated, and if a searcher is called by one of his customers, he or she must step outside. Searchers will be banned from writing up their work in the office.

Searchers are being encouraged to stay home, where it costs 20 cents just to look at a page, to say nothing of the charges for time spent on their system.

In a meeting with searchers, Super Clerk claimed everything was coming from the Commissioners. When asked whether that was true, Commissioners' Chairman Dean Browning stated, "This is the first I heard of this." Cunningham Chief of Staff Frank Kane had no idea this was being planned, either. They both insist there must be some reasonable explanation for what certainly sounds like draconian changes, but I was unable to get in touch with Naugle.

One person I did get in touch with is Phil Janny, an Executive Officer with the Pennsylvania Land Title Association. He has met several times with SuperClerk, and corroborates what I've heard from several Lehigh County searchers. In fact, in a letter to the Lehigh County Bar Association, Janny makes things very clear.

"We are concerned about the availability of access to the public records and space to review those public records. We need full access to all court records. I am concerned that the Clerk of Judicial Records and the County of Lehigh do not understand the process that we do in order to complete a full title search. Maps, Wills, Court Files are important and must be reviewed carefully Not all of those records are available online and the allocation of time to use computers is just not acceptable."

This is what happens when bureaucrats make decisions without bothering to consult end users. If SuperClerk goes through with these moronic plans, the end result is going to be defective and incomplete title searches, and Lehigh County is going to lose a lot more money in lawsuits than it saves by giving searchers the bum's rush.

When Northampton County's Recorder wants to move record books into Archives, the first thing she does is bounce it off searchers and gauge the need. In fact, Recorder Ann Achatz involved searchers in a complete redesign of her office, and enlisted them to find ways to remove hundreds of record books. She also engaged searchers to evaluate which computer system works best, and the result is the best computer system in the Commonwealth. Lehigh ignored searchers, installed a defective system, and only recently decided to invest in the same system that was installed and tweaked in Northampton County.

But Lehigh and Northampton have always been different.

When I hear from Naugle, I'll provide her explanation, and you can decide whether it's reasonable.

18 comments:

Bill said...

Wow. So much for open Government. It is a reasonable expectation as a citizen to have open access to Government records, and this sounds like it puts senseless and costly barriers to public records. Bad plan.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Lehigh County Recorder of Deeds Office is a small version of the TSA!

Anonymous said...

Bernie
This is outrageous Not because of you and your wealth-induced title searching career but for everyday folks who wish to look up historical searches on properties!!!!

Anonymous said...

wow. someone doesn't coddle title searchers, at taxpayer expense.



how tragic.

Anonymous said...

Naugle has developed a Napoleonic complex with her bloated position.

Anonymous said...

Bernie This is just the frosting on the cake that has been shoved down Lehigh County Taxpayer's throats since the election that put Super Clerk in office. Yes,the voters were given a choice but that choice was shrouded in crap from the time the proposal was drafted. Give up your right to elect three county government officials and and we will save you millions in tax dollars. There isn't enough gravy in the Lehigh Valley this time of year to swallow that much crap. Maybe they should publish an accounting of how much of the "saved" tax dollars have been spent to put all of the county records onto computer format and thrown out into the world wide web. Include the cost of office renovations and other miscellaneous expenditures that go along with this whole mess and publish it on the front page of our finest local "tabloid" next to the 14.26% county tax increase for 2011. Excuse me, did the people who voted to pass this really read it or was the print so small that only the words SAVE MILLIONS was in a font size larger than 6 ? As for ALL of the Lehigh County Commissioners not knowing about any of this, all I can say is - Gee, there's a big surprise! Super Clerk seems to be rather good at making changes to the system and not letting too many people now about them. Where's the big article in the tabloid about all of this. Does the Historical Society even know about the destruction of these documents. THESE ARE HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS - what in the name of saving space are they doing? Ok,so the current method of recording legal documents is computerization that doesn't give anyone the right to remove/destroy the old records. Schools used to bring students to the Courthouse to view historical documents, wow, imagine a field trip to go look at a computer. Might as well take them to Best Buy. But I digress. Yes,the title searching community was told not to bother wearing winter coats when we come in to do our jobs because there would be no place to put them. What about the general public? Is there going to be a front page notice telling the public to leave their coats at home if they plan on utilizing The Office of the Clerk of Judicial Records? The public sometimes comes in to these offices with their children to search for records. Where are they going to go. Maybe Super Clerk could take some of the "unavailable space" to open a supervised playroom and generate even more revenue for the "for profit" office she runs.
So many options, so little time. Tick tock election time is closer than you think. These are public records in a public office and any anyone, I mean any one, should be able to utilize them without being hinderd in their research process and without having to PAY to look at them. Not only do the powers that be not know what the searchers do, I don't think they really know what half of the documents they're putting on record are used for. The phrase was used "we want this to be a one stop shop". Can you the believe that! It was a one stop shop when all of the offices were in one building.You just had to use the stairs or take the elevator!

Anonymous said...

P.S.
Loved the accompanying photo!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naugle has developed a Napoleonic complex with her bloated position.

9:02 AM

Well Said! Doesn't someone here know the Lehigh Commissioners well enough to call and explain how wrong this plan is?

Anonymous said...

Bernie
Please. Contact the papers about this.

Anonymous said...

What is even more troubling than the removal of some of these centuries-old volumes, is how will they be stored? Under proper conditions and temperatures, or left to rot and ruin.
Someone needs to step in now to protect and save these rare documents.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"wow. someone doesn't coddle title searchers, at taxpayer expense."

his goes to you, too, bippy. Any member of the public will be treated like garbage who does not belong there.

Clem said...

Anonymous said...
Naugle has developed a Napoleonic complex with her bloated position.

9:02 AM

Anyone who thinks this isn't THE innate attitude of public employees is a moron.

Public employees believe they are your betters, though most of them are dumber than a rock and couldn't hold a private sector job long enough to their first paycheck.

When the hell are folks going to wise up?

B. H. Krempa said...

Bern, we count on you for information that is correct, and we generally get it.
We have not gotten it with this story.
For starters, you invited Ms. Naugle to be interviewed on Mr. Angle’s radio show, and she accepted with the purpose of trying to talk voters out of the whole “Superclerk” idea. The voters rejected her arguments.
You contend that Landex Remote is more expensive than working in the Recorder’s Office. My office saves a whole ton of money by making copies with Landex Remote. One can copy a five-page Deed for less than the cost of one page in the Recorders’ Office. There are, of course, plenty of things that need to be done in the Recorder’s Office, and I will still go there to do them.
Most importantly, you fail to mention that the Recorder of Deeds did ask title searchers for their opinions before she bought the “disaster system.” To a person, we said “Get Landex. It’s great, and Northampton County has been using it for years.” The “disaster system” was bought instead, by Marie Dean, the previous Recorder of Deeds. Moreover, Ms. Dean attempted to push through the purchase of an update for the “disaster system” before leaving office. Upon taking office, Ms. Naugle installed Landex. I for one am grateful.
Ms. Dean is a lovely lady who makes the greatest Amish Friendship Bread ever, but it was she, and not Ms. Naugle, who not only ignored the advice of many of the people who would use the system, but also signed up an equally crummy company to scan the documents which will be (as Ms. Dean knew, since this plan has been in the works for years) removed. I have heard, but do not know for sure, that Ms. Dean also paid 80% of the scanning contract before 25% of the work was done, thereby leaving Ms. Naugle a very small hammer to try to get the numerous errors of the scanning company corrected.
It seems that you may have been bamboozled by people (many of whom seem to wish to remain “Anonymous”) who were personal friends of Ms. Dean’s and dislike Ms. Naugle for reasons that have nothing to do with her job performance.
I am also surprised that an anti-tax guy like you would not be in favor of user fees in lieu of new taxes.
There will be plenty of problems with the new, reduced-size office. You would be doing us all a service if you addressed them in your usual competent fashion.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Beth,

I stand by what I wrote.

(1) It does costs 20 cents, just to view a page, on the LC system. This is before you pay for the time you use as well. It is necessarily more expensive than simply using the system at courthouse. It is designed to screw the sole searcher in favor of larger business operations like yours. In fact, you will eventually be screwed, too, as the jobs are sent overseas. Before you start laughing, some of them already are being done overseas.

(2) Lehigh and Northampton County are completely different. It makes no difference whether SuperClerk is Naugle or Dean. The simple reality is that searchers in LC are NOT treated like human beings, whether it is the hard floors, the lack of phones or the failure to include searchers in any meaningful decision.

(3) LC searchers were not consulted prior to a basic decision that essentially tells them to stay the hell away. Marie Dean did consult before NOT choosing the only decent system. Like I said, it matters not to me whether Superclerk is Andrea or Marie. There is a systemic problem that transcends personality. You are trying to paint this as a Marie v. Andrea situation, and that is inaccurate. he identity if Superclerk is irrelevant. But what should bother all of us is an attempt by government to be less responsive to the very people who depend on records for their livelihood.

(4) Most people are signing anonymously out of obvious fear of retaliation. You are not because you are already being a suck up and may in fact benefit. I'll note this is the FIRST time you've ever signed your name to any comment here, but you act as though you've been doing it for some time. Why sign now? Something in it for you?
How you can justify conduct that includes telling searchers they may not speak or should not wear a Winter coat, is beyond me.

I should note that I removed the anonymous option over the weekend, as i sometimes do bc of the numerous trolls that comment on weekends.

Anonymous said...

AH YES, once again the democrats are trying to blame everything on the former administration. Our fearless leader in the White House has George Bush and B H Krempa has Marie Dean. Always looking for someone else to blame the current problems on. Don't you think beating that drum is getting a bit old.
As for Landex being cheaper to use at the office - yes it's cheper to make the copies at the office. You're not using the county's paper, toner, electricity and hardware maintenance personel. However, are you SEARCHING from your office? Are you logged into Landex from 8:00 AM til 4:00 PM ? Factor in that cost and tell the public how inexpensive it is to use Landex "at home". Why don't you be the first to give it a try.

B. H. Krempa said...

Well, silly me. Thought you and your readers might be interested in facts. Guess not.
No, it does not cost 20 cents to look at a page. It costs 10 cents per minute, plus (here is where Lehigh County goes overboard with costs. I don't know who made this decision, do you?) 5 cents per page printed. So, Bern, you are wrong there. Stand by it if you want.
"Larger operations" like mine? Really. Bernard, you hooked me up with this job in 1998, so you are well aware that this is also nonsense.
Outsourcing in parts of our business is old news. It worries us all, and the subject deserves a blog of its own. Some, however, would say that it's just great, because it allows lenders and title companies to make more money, which is, as we have seen, good for all of us Americans, right? (NOW I'm laughing!)
There are plenty of differences between NC (where you, I, and "Fearful of the Dreaded Midnight Knock on the Door" live) and LC. I go to both regularly (as far as I know, neither of you do) and I see advantages and disadvantages in each.
No, I'm not trying to make it "Marie vs. Andrea" (I don't know the party affiliations of either, since I don't vote here, but thought all Row Officer candidates crossfile...) just trying to correct the misapprehensions your initial story would cause. This is the last time I will do that.
This is also the second, and last, time that I will post anything on any blog. I've never been a fan of having arguments in public, especially with "Anonymous." Fear of retaliation? What sort did you have in mind? Some think the worst has already happened.
What sort of "benefits" do you think I might reap? I've already been assured that I will not be permitted to hold boisterous political meetings in the Recorder's Office, as you do, or talk loudly about non-business matters on my cellphone in that office, as you do. So, are we to assume that you have performed some "suck-up" service to gain these perquisites?
As said, I've never posted on a blog before, although I read several regularly, yours among them. I am what I believe is known as a lurker.
Having completely failed to advance the discourse that you say you want, I'm going back to lurking. Thanks for the opportunity to experience all of the things you say you won't tolerate. No wonder this place is a mess.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Beth,

1) I stand by what I wrote, but did learn today that it is 5 cents, and not 20, per page, together with the actual time. But even I look at hundreds of pages per day, so this is still exorbitant.

2) You are not a self-employed abstractor. It doesn't matter to you that this surcharge is being imposed on small business persons who are trying to eke out a living. But it bothers many of us who are self-employed and are being subjected to a major increase in overhead at a time when the real estate market is already in the tank.

3) One look at your first comment is all the evidence any of us need to know that you attempted to politicize this into an Andrea v. Marie situation. You even suggest that I was listening too much to the Marie Dean crowd.

4) Yes, we all have our idiosyncracies. Some people talk endlessly about their weekends or their children or TV shows. Others drag their kids with them everywhere. Still others plan endless parties every time someone farts. As for me, I do engage in boisterous political debate inside the confines of a public building. I even talk on my cell phone. This is what is known as core political speech and is guaranteed by the First Amendment. If I were in LC, I would do it there, too. Try to stop me.

5) Fear of retaliation is a legitimate concern, especially among searchers who have already been publicly embarrassed for dastardly deeds like bringing their child into an office. I allow anonymous comments so people can say what they think w/o fear of reprisal. But I repeat that you make it sound as though you are a regular participant here, when in fact, you never commented before this particular post. You say you are a lurker, and I suppose I can buy that. But I can tell you one thing. The only conversations that you and I will have will be very public.

6) As a title searcher, I find it very odd that you take no offense at the complete lack of input on a decision that will have a deleterious adverse impact on self-employed title searchers. I am puzzled that you would rally to the banner of someone who has basically shut off any discussion. I am more mystified at a poor attempt to turn this into a political debate. And now you have to get snarky. Figures.

Anonymous said...

.....Don't know the party affiliations of either Marie or Andrea because I don't vote in Lehigh County.... Who the hell is laughing now? Forget the shovel,we're going to need a bucket loader for that one!
And how contrite, the comment about the Amish Friendship Bread -
Really!