Workers protest records move

Title searchers ask Robey to find alternative to plan for document relocation

Papers to be in two buildings

Employees say split sites will make job more costly, time-consuming

Howard County

October 03, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County's title searchers want the county executive to find a closer, more convenient alternative to a plan to move local land records from the Circuit Courthouse to a Howard-owned building five miles away.

In a letter sent to County Executive James N. Robey this week, the searchers insisted that the county does not need to split the documents they use daily - land records, court judgments and estates - between two distant buildings to fix the problems that have troubled Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport's cramped offices for years.

Rappaport made the announcement in July about the move to the county-owned Dorsey building on Bendix Road, off Route 108.

Instead, the searchers wrote, the county could buy or lease space in buildings next to the Ellicott City courthouse or move other functions off-site. Moving land records and related functions would make the title search process more costly and time-consuming, they wrote.

The letter, which was copied to state and county legislators, is accompanied by a 100-plus signature petition from searchers, title companies and local attorneys and businessmen.

"Our backs are to the wall," said Frank R. Neubauer III, who signed the letter on behalf of the county's title searchers. "Unfortunately, these people who are making the decision are people ... who have no concept of how to do title searching."

Still, with renovation work on a 5,000-square-foot space in the Dorsey building under way and the county in an economic tight spot, it appeared unlikely this week that an 11th-hour appeal to Robey would be successful. Officials said the move is planned for Feb. 1.

"We're the ones that suggested it," Sang Oh, an aide to the executive, said of the move. " ... Their lobby is with the clerk of court at this point."

The county can't afford to buy or lease any more space, said James M. Irvin, Howard's public works director.

"We're moving ahead, and we're spending money making this happen," he said. "I don't see us turning back."

Irvin and Rappaport, who is paying the bulk of the renovation cost from her budget, said they believe the spacious new facility will be a good thing for the title searchers.

"Any move is an upset, but once they get settled, it's going to be worth the 4.7 miles that they have to travel," Rappaport said.

She has said she agreed earlier this year to the move after court officials told her that other, pressing judicial needs left little new space for the clerk's office after the state's attorney's office vacated its offices in March.

In July and again this week, Rappaport noted that her office has been cited for occupational health hazards and fire code violations and that her employees complain of health ailments they attribute to the crowded building.

The space crunch has left new employees sharing space with veteran clerks, she said this week.

While she never wanted to decentralize her office, she said she decided she had no choice but to make the move to the Dorsey building.

"We have people falling over boxes here," Rappaport said Wednesday. The searchers "don't see the problems that we have here."

Still, Neubauer said relocating land records will make the job of title searching "dysfunctional." He compared the expected effect of a move to a plumber who goes to work but is forced to leave his tools - in this case, files stored in their offices - behind.

And he said he found "a great deal of irony" in the fact that there are new discussions about raising the county's property transfer tax while the clerk's office is planning a move that will make the searchers' part of the transfer process more difficult.

John Turner, who owns a title- search business next to the courthouse, said he maintains "hopeful optimism" that the searchers' plea will work. But said he has started "preparing for the worst."

He said he is looking into ways to manage the commute and said devices such as fax machines, extra phone lines and possibly walkie-talkies will become crucial tools of the trade.

"One way or another, we're going to find a way to meet our clients' needs," he said. " ... We have to figure a way to compensate for all these [new] burdens."

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