Las Vegas Sun

June 12, 2021

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Should county recorder’s office be eliminated?

By Thom Reilly

Thom Reilly is the Clark County manager, appointed by the Clark County Commission.

One thing that frustrates all of us is that many interactions with government require standing in a line. Sometimes we go through one line at a governmental agency, only to find out that we need to go to yet another line. Here at Clark County, we have been trying to eliminate some of those lines. As part of that effort, we asked the Legislature to introduce and consider Senate Bill 80. This bill would eliminate the elected office of county recorder and transfer all of its duties to another elected county officer, the County Clerk.

This request comes about in the midst of many other changes and consolidation in county government. Various neighborhood-based programs were combined with parks and recreation programs to create the new Parks and Community Services Department. The human resource functions were consolidated into the Administrative Services Department.

To create a one-stop shop for development-related business, the new Development Services Department assumed functions of the Permit Application Center. The General Services Department and the position of chief information officer were eliminated and combined with other county departments. These changes were accomplished to provide more convenient service and greater accountability. Consolidation of the recorder's office by SB80 will do the same.

Under our democratic system, we generally elect leaders and representatives to policy-making positions or to positions that require a level of independence from other decision-makers. We expect them to be citizens like ourselves, not specific experts in a given area, but individuals whose judgment we trust.

Through elections, we hold them accountable for the decisions they make. We generally do not elect the administrators and functionaries that carry out the directions of these elected policymakers.

The recorder's duties are strictly administrative in nature. The office does no more than accept and record, or file, certain public documents, such as deeds of trust, homestead forms, property leases, mechanics liens and the like. The recorder does not prepare these documents, but only records them.

These documents are important aspects of personal financial transactions to be sure, but the proper and efficient recording of these documents is a purely administrative task. The recorder does not establish high-level policy for the citizens of the county and cannot be said to participate in any important aspect of governance.

This function does not require the accountability of election by the people. More properly, this function requires expertise that can best be acquired by hiring a credentialed, professional administrator.

In Los Angeles County, Calif., the recorder functions have been combined into the county clerk's office, as they have been in Sacramento. In San Francisco, the recorder's duties have been consolidated with those of the assessor.

Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming all either require or allow recorder's functions to be carried out by the county clerk. Even in Nevada, Carson City, which operates as a county and a city, has a combined office of clerk-recorder.

We have some interesting overlap in how certain documents are filed in Nevada. The county clerk maintains the official record for the district courts and the County Commission. The clerk also maintains a record of notaries public and fictitious business names.

The clerk issues marriage licenses, yet the actual marriage certificates must be filed with the county recorder -- causing a great deal of confusion for citizens and visitors alike. The current system requires those securing a marriage license to not only stand in two separate lines and deal with two separate offices, but to visit two separate buildings -- the County Government Center and the District Court building.

We believe that the county clerk should be an elected officer because that office requires independence in order to ensure a proper record for the courts and commission. We also believe that, given the nature of responsibility delegated to the clerk under law, this would be the perfect office under which to consolidate the recorder's functions.

SB80 will allow Clark County to make the changes necessary to ensure that we provide the highest level of courtesy, efficiency and cost-effective service to our citizens and do so in a way that eliminates one more confusing layer and one more line to stand in.

By Frances Deane

Frances Deane is the elected Clark County recorder. She took office in January.

I understand why the Clark County management initiated Senate Bill 80, which would allow the County Commission to eliminate the elected position of county recorder and transfer the recorder's responsibilities to the county clerk.

The previous county recorder had a contentious relationship with the county manager and with other offices with county government. But would passage of this bill have prevented the misadventure of the previous administration?

If SB80 is being considered solely because of a poor experience with the prior administration in the recorder's office, isn't this a very dangerous precedence to set? Using that logic, would that not lead to the elimination of many elected positions, not just the recorder's office?

My administration has a marked difference in style. We have established an open-door policy with other county elected officials, management and employees.

We have successfully implemented numerous steps to improve the efficiency of the operation. For example, we gave up some of our administrative space to make room for 13 more recording stations, dramatically increasing our daily volume of work.

We're now reaching record levels of recording -- on the last day of March, we recorded 1,000 weddings and 5,200 land transactions.

The only way to turn around the previous years of complacency, within a short period of time, is with bold action. Thinking outside the box has shown dividends in cost savings and increased productivity, as well as development of relationships with title companies, which are the key users of the office.

Eliminating this elected office would diminish the voice of home buyers and the voice of the real estate community. In moving the recorder's functions to another elected official, you would be combining the key constituents of one group (legal community for the county clerk) with key constituents of another group (title industry for recorder) -- diluting the voice of both in their respective areas.

A fee was added to all recorder transactions by the last Legislature to assist the office in upgrading its technology for better efficiency and productivity. This means more potential revenue for the county, as newer technology means more and better products and access for businesses and individuals who pay for copies of our records.

Eliminating the recorder's office, and removing the fee from this office's purview, would endanger the potential for increased revenue from this source. This would negate the purpose for which the 2001 Legislature created this fund.

The recorder's office is one of the major revenue producing areas of the county. This office generates more than $5 million every month. Of this amount, almost $2 million goes to the Clark County School District, another $2 million goes to the state and the balance goes into the county's general fund.

In the first 60 days of the new administration, we have changed various work task priorities that will produce notable increases to those amounts. For example, we have an auditor who checks to ensure that no errors are made in collecting the real property transfer tax. Before this administration, he was also spending a lot of time notarizing documents. He is now a full-time auditor, and we expect collections of the transfer tax to increase by 10 percent.

Consolidation for the sake of efficiency has seldom produced the results imagined and it creates even larger bureaucracies. It might work if you had two duplicate services, such as 30 years ago when the Clark County Sheriff's Department merged with the Las Vegas Police Department to form the Metropolitan Police Department.

The county clerk's office does not have a function similar to the county recorder's office. There are no overlapping services. Even with marriage licenses, which must be issued by the county clerk and filed with the recorder, there can be no one-stop shop.

A couple must have a license before they get married, but not all people who get a license actually get married. And you cannot legally create a marriage certificate until the couple is actually married and the clergy signs the license.

Combining the recorder's office with the clerk's office will not save money nor provide better service to the community. More likely, it will increase administrative staff.

Attempting to eliminate an elective office, thereby eliminating the voice of the people, is always dangerous. My staff is demoralized by this discussion and is opposed to the consolidation. I hope the voice of the people will continue to be heard.