Op-ed: I can give S.L. County Recorder's Office a needed update
Citizens of Utah were outraged in 2011 when the Legislature passed a law limiting what records were available for public scrutiny. Public pressure was brought to bear and the law was amended. We are clearly citizens who care about transparency and open government. Yet my experience trying to obtain public information about our property records from the Salt Lake County Recorder's office leaves me wondering.
The method for tracking property records was established by Brigham Young in "An Ordinance in Relation to County Recorders" in 1850. This established specific guidelines in conveying land and how it was to be recorded, cataloged in bound books and be free for examination. That law was modified in 1888 to require the county recorders to keep separate books and indexes for all transactions. In essence recorders were charged with showing a clear chain of title for all real property and any encumbrances.
While the foundation for the recorder's duties has not changed much since 1888, technology has moved forward allowing us new ways to accomplish these tasks in an efficient and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the Salt Lake County Recorder's office has not updated its system much at all.
The current system is not easily accessible for the public. Records are available by visiting the recorder's office on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or online by paying a large fee. If members of the public wish to research their property history, they have to sift through cross-referenced books up until 1980 when the records move to microfiche.
Yes, I stated that correctly - microfiche. Technology last popular in the 1980s is the standard by which the current Salt Lake County Recorder provides documents to the public.
Some data is available for online lookup for a fee of $150 that must be paid up front, and then the user is charged an additional fee for every page actually viewed. To add insult to injury, the online system is so difficult to navigate that users are strongly encouraged to take a special training course.
Paper and microfiche are fragile! It is disgraceful that these records are not being preserved in a more modern and efficient manner. As your recorder, I will digitize and fully index these records for everyone to access, not just those who can afford to pay exorbitant fees.
More than just technology is antiquated at the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office. Many documents recorded must be notarized. You would think that the current recorder would find it worthwhile to offer this service, right? Wrong. No notary. With a stunning lack of customer service, they refuse to accept credit or debit cards. Cash or check only! We can and should do better.
The recorder is responsible for the first step of what ultimately results in how much you will pay in property tax. As recorder, I will ensure that your records are accurate. I also promise that I will advocate for you the taxpayer. Whether it's a consumer issue or a piece of legislation, I will fight for your best interests.
All of these issues point to a larger problem in general. A complete lack of transparency. Lyndon Johnson once said that "a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits. No one should be able to pull the curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest."
He was right. Any successful entity must have transparency as the focal point of its operations, especially a taxpayer-funded agency such as the recorder's office.
After 14 years with the same leadership, it's time for new blood. If elected, I promise to make the recorder's office a more transparent and open place for all. It's time for a change you can trust.
Mary Bishop is a Salt Lake City small business owner and Democratic candidate for Salt Lake County Recorder.