Register of Deeds primary contest is a four-way race

Four Democrats will seek to advance to the general election and face a challenge in November by an independent candidate.

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The courthouse in Edgartown is closed after asbestos was discovered in the boiler room. — Michael Cummo

Next week, voters will choose from among four candidates on the Democratic slate who seek to replace Dianne Powers, Dukes County Register of Deeds, who announced she would retire with two years remaining in her six-year term after 22 years in office.

There are no Republicans candidates. However, last week Martina Thornton, Dukes County Manager, announced that she would run as a write-in candidate in the primary to get her name out, and as an independent candidate in the general election.

The four candidates on the Democratic slate are: Assistant Register of Deeds Paulo C. DeOliveira, Laura J. Hairston, lawyer Candace “Candy” Nichols, and lawyer Eve Lauren Vincent.

The Registry of Deeds is one of the oldest departments in Dukes County, dating back to 1641. The Register of Deeds records property transfers from all seven towns in the county, and also serves as an assistant recorder of the Massachusetts Land Court.

This week The Times asked each candidate to describe his or her background and qualifications and respond to two questions in a set amount of words. Their biographies and answers, lightly edited, follow.

Paulo DeOliveira is the Assistant Register of Deeds and the only candidate with experience working for the registry, where he has worked for eight years. He has the endorsement of Ms. Powers, his colleagues, and over 20 local attorneys. Mr. DeOliveira said that he has managerial experience related to all aspects of the office, and has done extensive work with indexing, electronic recording, information technology, and office budgeting. He said the register determines how each document that is submitted is recorded; therefore, he or she must be the most knowledgeable person in terms of recording procedures and practices. Mr. DeOliveira said his unique and extensive firsthand experience in the management and operation of the office has fully prepared him for the role of Register of Deeds.

Laura Hairston has two teenagers, and works as a real estate manager. Ms. Hairston moved into her family home on the Island in 2012. She said she excelled with people, projects, and financial management during her 20 years as a senior manager at IBM. Ms. Hairston said that she would provide transparency to the registry’s activities and financial performance. She would collaborate with the registers, stakeholders, and team to identify the best practices and to reduce duplicate efforts. Ms. Hairston believes she is a proven leader, committed to excellence, superior customer support, and protecting the public’s property interests.

Candace “Candy” Nichols was born in Oak Bluffs, and has lived in Edgartown for over 30 years. Ms. Nichols has practiced law for 30 years; and for the past 23 years, she has been a principal at the law firm Kaplan & Nichols P.C. She works primarily on land matters, which involve land searches at the Registry of Deeds.

Ms. Nichols has been a Massachusetts Land Court title examiner for 23 years. She is also a Massachusetts Probate Court appointee for land partitions, and for financial-accounting reviews for four counties.

Eve Vincent was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard. She attended the Edgartown School, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and Wheaton College in Norton, where she graduated with honors, and received her juris doctorate degree from Suffolk Law School. Ms. Vincent works as an attorney, managing her own law firm, Vincent Codding Law.

Ms. Vincent said her experience in real estate law and law-firm management, as well as her legal background, have provided her with the qualifications necessary to be successful as Register of Deeds. She has spent a great deal of time in the registry, becoming familiar with the people and practices at the department.

If elected, what, if any, changes would you institute at the Dukes County Registry of Deeds?

Mr. DeOliveira: If elected, I look forward to using my firsthand knowledge of the office to continue improving its effectiveness and efficiency for its users. Digitizing records and preserving our important historical documents will continue to be a focus for me, but there are also some improvements that I would like to institute.

Grantor and grantee index books are not currently available online. As these books are the only way to do a search of grantors and grantees in documents that were recorded before 1979, one of my priorities will be to make them available online. This will be a helpful tool for title examiners and users to make their research easier and more efficient.

Currently, the organization of the duties assigned to employees, as well as the physical recording stations, can cause a backup when multiple customers want to record the same type of document. To minimize wait time for recording documents, I would like to restructure how tasks are assigned so that both employees and recording stations can be available to more than one customer at a time.

Ms. Hairston: We will engage with the community to determine their needs, interests, and concerns. The focus will be on ensuring that registry operations are easily understood and visible to the community. Additionally, we will collaborate with registers from the Commonwealth to identify, share, and adopt best practices. We will apply technology to streamline processing where possible. The budget and revenue performance for each fiscal year will be published on the registry website. News, upcoming events, and educational opportunities that relate to the registry and the public will also be shared on the registry website.

Ms. Nichols: To further modernize the systems in the registry, to include computer systems, and especially the access to documents online and at the registry itself by upgrading and expanding the deeds, easement, and other documents for the public and the county community. The original documents, plans, and maps at the registry date back to the 1600s. They are our history, from the birth of this nation through the Revolution and onward to the first planned city in the United States in Oak Bluffs. My goal is to make sure all this information is easily accessible for the community. My passion is to provide interactive links of information on the Dukes County deeds website, such as homestead recording and how to obtain copies of ownership such as deeds in order to empower buyers, home buyers, sellers, and all the community persons in need of obtaining or recording documents at the registry. I want to organize and implement public-outreach programs to provide Dukes County residents hands-on knowledge for deed recording info, to understand recording fees, and to research information about their properties in Dukes County.

Ms. Vincent: As register, I would be responsible for making the registry a well-run and user-friendly facility for the people of Dukes County. Dianne Powers has done a phenomenal job of this, and has an excellent staff. In my opinion, as a public servant, the most effective way of determining what changes need to be made is to ask the people who use and depend on the registry. One change I would personally love to see is an expansion of the registry’s online records, making all of the registry documents accessible to those who find it difficult to get to the registry itself. However, once in office, I would welcome input, and would look to the users of the registry regularly for ideas as to how it could work better for them, always striving to meet those requests in a timely fashion.

In the 2017 fiscal year, it will cost taxpayers $407,400 to operate the Registry of Deeds. What, if anything, can be done to reduce expenses and increase income?

Mr. DeOliveira: For clarification, the actual cost to taxpayers is $327,451. The additional $79,950.30 comes from the registry’s deeds excise monies and the Technology Fund. Of the excise tax from each property sale recorded at the registry, 10.625 percent comes back to the county, and 40 percent of that goes back to the registry.

All registry fees are predetermined and state-regulated, so without legislation to increase recording fees, there is no opportunity to generate additional revenue. All revenue generated by the registry is turned over to the county and the state, and the projected revenue to the county for the 2017 fiscal year is $345,000, which means that the revenue generated by the registry more than covers the expenses of the office.

The major expense of the registry is in personnel. Salaries and benefits for 2017 total $379,036. The only way to reduce the budget would be a reduction in workforce, which is unrealistic. Since 1977, the office has operated with a four-person department. With the demands on the office and the need for the preservation and maintenance of our ever-growing collection, it is not possible to operate effectively with fewer employees.

Ms. Hairston: The Register of Deeds prepares the operating budget for approval by the county commissioners. The cost to operate the Registry of Deeds consists primarily of operating expenses. The registry is also a revenue-producing agency. It does not drive revenue; the registry’s revenue is generated from statutory fees that are collected for recordings, excise tax stamps, copies and other registry services. The registry’s operations are self-supporting. All receipts are paid periodically into the county and state treasuries, thereby helping to reduce the cost of government at all levels.

Ms. Nichols: The implementation of more automation of records on an understandable level, as set forth above, can provide technical solutions that produce cost savings. By drawing on my knowledge over the years of researching records and recording issues, I can respond quickly on a daily basis to questions and issues from the public and attorneys, which in turn allows the staff to reallocate their activities to cost-saving measures. My passion for community outreach would bring in more Homestead Declarations to be recorded — a win/win, bringing in recording revenues for the county, and the persons in our community would have valuable monetary protection for their homes and families. During my practice, I’ve been through economic downturns, and I’ve learned how to cut costs while maintaining services, personnel jobs, and benefits. I’ll bring that experience to bear.

Ms. Vincent: Speculations on budget changes are difficult until you are in a position to see what is and is not possible firsthand in any specific office. With that in mind, my goal would be to reduce expenses and increase income without sacrificing the efficiency that is currently at the registry. My experience with budgeting and management would allow me to effectively review the registry budget line items and implement ideas for more efficient spending and increased income in an appropriate manner.