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.