This letter will be in the News of Cumberland County tomorrow.
I am writing to answer concerns raised by my opponent in the current election for Cumberland County Clerk.Part One — Technology & Computers
In a recent letter to the press my opponent wrote regarding what she feels are the lack of technology and access to services in the Cumberland County Clerk’s Office. Apparently my opponent thinks that simply because I am a woman “of a certain age” that I am not technologically savvy. That is an example of the arrogance of youth.
When I was first elected as County Clerk, there was only one computer in the entire office and that was used for basic data entry. Within three years, I had a computer at every staff person’s workstation, as well as eight public workstations for use in our Records Vault. I made this transition without interruption of service and realized a minimum of $50,000 per year in savings to county taxpayers.
In 2002, I implemented an in-house imaging system certified by the NJ Division of Archives & Records Management for our legal records. This further streamlined the recording process, reduced costs and increased efficiency. In 2006, I applied for an received a grant from the NJ Division of Archives & Records Management for electronic document recording. This “E-File” system has been in use for over 3 1/2 years and we have over 300 companies as approved submitters. This was a shared services project with other New Jersey counties allowing Cumberland County to implement a progressive program while sharing the expense. We were the sixth county in New Jersey to have our E-Filing system certified by the state. Under my leadership, Cumberland County has been, and will remain, at the forefront of technological progress.
When my opponent compares Cumberland to other counties, she should take into consideration that we do not have the resources or funding that they may enjoy and what is a good solution in Gloucester may not be good for Cumberland. That being said, I still challenge her to compare our cost per document for recording with other counties and she will find that our recording methods are extremely cost-effective. My staff performs all recording and indexing in-house, while other counties pay large sums to outside vendors for portions of this work.Part Two – Online access to land records
My opponent has criticized my decision to not allow online access to our land records. She may not understand that this is not simply an omission — it was the result of a conscious and reasoned decision I made not to do it. I have explained this many times before, but perhaps my opponent has not taken the time to try to find out. I would like to explain again why I have deliberately chosen not to allow online access.
First, in order to provide online access, you must have scanned images of the legal documents and an electronic index must be created to search for a particular document by various criteria. We began imaging incoming documents in 2002, but all records before that time must be “back-scanned.” That is an expensive project, since there are millions of pages of records to be scanned and indexed. While I have completed back-scanning back through 1987, there are still millions of more pages to go.
Unrestricted access to documents on the Internet also creates concerns about the liability to the county. Other counties have already been sued for the content of the data they have made available and problems that have arisen from allowing unrestricted access. Once again, my opponent does not take into account the unique situation in Cumberland County.
We have a large population of law enforcement officials and correction officers residing in Cumberland County because of the many prisons located here. Remember, Cumberland County houses more than one-half of all the prisoners in the entire state. We also have persons with domestic violence protection orders as well. Many, if not the vast majority, of these people, law enforcement officials, correction officers and victims of domestic violence, have unlisted phone numbers in order to maintain control not only over who calls them, but to avoid having their addresses published in phone books. My opponent has to remember that many of the recorded land records have people’s home addresses. If we were to make our land records available on the Internet, these people would have their home addresses disclosed on the Internet and easily available.
I am aware that this information can be obtained otherwise, but having to come to the courthouse, or pay a third party, may be enough to discourage some abuse. If I can help a law enforcement officer, a corrections officer or a victim of domestic violence maintain their privacy and thus their safety and the safety of their families, I think that is a good thing to do no matter what my opponent thinks.
My staff already receives many phone calls each month from citizens complaining about their land transaction being published in the local newspapers. Most feel that it is a violation of their privacy and are upset by it. While I can’t control what the newspapers do, I can control what my office does. While the land records are “public” records, they still contain sensitive information. If you have a valid need for these records, copies can be obtained readily in the Clerk’s Office or obtained through widely available commercial channels, such as title companies. Here’s the bottom line to you, the person reading this: When was the last time you had to obtain a copy of a recorded land record that wasn’t being obtained for you by a title company? My guess is never. Putting these records on the Internet would not help you.
A last point before I move on is that many older land records were generated before “identity theft” became a widespread problem. Because of that, some land records contain what would now be considered confidential and sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers; dates of births, deaths and divorces; names of spouses, prior spouses, children, descendants and ancestors; details of personal relationships; and many other items of personal information.
If we simply scan in all of the land records and publish them on the Internet we would be exposing many of our citizens to fraud, invasion of privacy and identity theft. We would be exposing the county to lawsuits as a result. My opponent is an attorney, so I am surprised she hasn’t thought of this.Part Three – Clerk’s Office at the Cumberland Mall
As to my opponent’s concerns for geographical limitations for voting and her desire to open a “store” at the Cumberland Mall, our Legislature has addressed that concern by enacting “Vote-By-Mail” legislation which was signed by Governor Corzine this July. (Maybe it’s too new for my opponent to have heard of it.) Anyone can request a ballot be mailed to them which they can vote at their convenience without leaving the privacy of their home. What could be more convenient than that? An application to vote by mail was mailed to all voters. I encourage anyone who wishes to use this service to call my office at (856) 453-4865 for assistance.
My opponent is showing her naivety and inexperience by thinking that a store in the mall can be rented, staffed and maintained for only $25,000 per year. Has she approached the mall to see what space could be rented and for what rent or is she totally guessing? Has she considered the statutory limitations on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place (which a Clerk’s Office at the mall would be near elections.) That requirement was recently re-emphasized and strengthened by the New Jersey Supreme Court to even include commercial activity. How are you going to find a place more than 100 feet distant from any commercial activity at the mall? Has she considered the need for security of the ballots and other sensitive material that is now handled by the Sheriff’s Department?
Let’s be serious. When someone is called for jury duty they report to the courthouse, not the mall. When someone is sued, they report to the courthouse, not the mall. When you want to get divorced or adopt a baby or evict a tenant you go to the courthouse and not the mall. If you want to attend a sheriff’s sale or speak to the county prosecutor you go to Bridgeton — not the mall. We live in a big wide world and people go all over to do all kinds of things. You would think a young person like my opponent would not be so provincial as to think Vineland and Millville residents would be greatly burdened by going to Bridgeton. I live in Vineland and go to Bridgeton every day. Bridgeton is serviced by New Jersey Transit bus service and the CATS buses go there, too. If the transportation system in the county is in this dire a shape, perhaps our board of freeholders should do something about that.
The Clerk’s Office performs a wide range of services, not just election functions and land records. We process U.S. passport applications, record business registrations, issue notary public oaths, issue identification cards and many other functions. In order to have a full-service office, we would need a minimum of three employees present at all times. That does not account for an employee taking their vacation or being out sick. At least one of these employees would need to be bi-lingual to accommodate our Hispanic citizens and to not violate the U.S. Department of Justice requirements for voting.
In order to conduct the clerk’s business at the mall, we would also need substantial physical resources, such as computers, printers, scanners, cameras, telephones, fax machines and other equipment. We would need hardened and protected Internet access to the Statewide Voter Registration System for voting and have sheriff’s officers to transport ballots to the Board of Elections. We would have to be linked with our courthouse office for land recordings with hardened and protected access and have fire-proof safes for storage of documents. The physical documents would have to be packed and moved to our primary storage every day in order to maintain continuity and integrity of searches and every time you handle a document there is risk of mishandling, loss or misfiling. Opening a Clerk’s Office is not the same as opening an ice cream stand.
The $25,000 “savings” my opponent believes would fund the office would not begin to cover the actual operating expenses of such a store. What about insurance? Bonding? Additional staff? Additional supervision? Security? Technology? Phones? Lack of convenience? How does she expect to pay for this service when the freeholder board is reducing the clerk’s operating budget (and all other departments) by 5 percent each year?
As county clerk, I am always looking for ways to better serve the public and reduce costs. As clerk, I keep my office open late two nights per month so that families who cannot visit during normal business hours can use our services. I have opened a monthly satellite office in Vineland and Millville city halls, taking our services to those cities. I have conducted satellite offices in most of our townships periodically as well. I have visited area senior centers as part of a shared services project to provide identification cards and process passport applications. I have extended these services without any extreme expenses passed on to taxpayers and without my opponent’s suggestions. I have repeatedly asked the county administration to be allowed to keep my office open for one Saturday per month, but was told that there were “concerns about the expense.” If they cannot afford to pay for one day per month, how will they fund a full-time store?
If my opponent wants to compare, the “$25,000 savings” for her proposed reduced salary would not balance out the fact that I have served as County Adjuster for seven years, with no salary, saving the county over $40,000 per year. While she may be agreeing to take 25 percent less salary, the taxpayers would be getting 75 percent less experience and half the work.
I am proud of my record of service to the county and of the advances that have taken place under my management. I have the administrative skills, knowledge and experience to serve our citizens and ask for your continued support. Thank you.
Candidate for Cumberland County Clerk