Dukes County Register of Deeds is a two-way race

Assistant Register of Deeds Paulo C. DeOliveira and Dukes County manager Martina Thornton seek to fill the term vacated by Dianne Powers.

Register of Deeds candidates Martina Thornton, left, and Paulo DeOliveira, right, met for a discussion with the public on Saturday at the Oak Bluffs Library. – Ralph Stewart

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, voters will decide who will 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. Assistant Register of Deeds Paulo C. DeOliveira, a Democrat, will square off with Dukes County manager Martina Thornton, an unenrolled candidate with no party affiliation.

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, 32, defeated three other candidates in the Democratic primary. Mr. DeOliveira, his wife Justine Shemeth, and their two children live in Edgartown. He was born in Brazil and moved to Boston when he was 15 years old, then permanently to Martha’s Vineyard 11 years ago.

He is a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Edgartown. Mr. DeOliveira is the chairman of the Edgartown financial advisory committee, and he serves on the Edgartown School parent-teacher association (PTA).

“I am proud to be part of our Island community and am passionate about contributing in a positive way,” he said.

Mr. DeOliveira began working at the registry in 2008, and is currently the Assistant Register of Deeds to retiring Register of Deeds Dianne Powers. He said he’s the only candidate with experience working for the registry — having also served as clerk and the information technology manager — with extensive experience in the management and operation of the office. This, he said, has prepared him to be register.

Martina Thornton, 40, is originally from the Czech Republic and moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2001. Ms. Thornton lives in Edgartown with her two sons.

Ms. Thornton has been the Dukes County manager since 2012, and prior to that she was the executive assistant to the Dukes County manager for four years. She is responsible for managing the county budget, all county assets, expenditures, personnel, and records.

Since 2001, Ms. Thornton has worked as a real estate paralegal and as a title examiner at the Registry of Deeds for two Edgartown firms.

“I feel fortunate to be part of the Island community. My career in public service has allowed me to contribute, and I am proud to have the respect of the community,” Ms. Thornton said.

She is a board member and volunteers for several nonprofit organizations on the Island, is a member of the school advisory council in Edgartown, and sings with the Martha’s Vineyard Community Chorus.

Currently you are the Assistant Register of Deeds. What qualifies you to take over the top spot?

Mr. DeOliveira: As Assistant Register, I have managerial experience related to all aspects of the office operation, and a proven track record of successfully fulfilling the duties of register.

I have the endorsement of current Register Dianne Powers, registry employees, and over 30 local attorneys, along with a wide variety of registry users, community leaders, and the majority of Registers of Deeds in Massachusetts. These endorsements are from people who are intimately familiar with the registry, and demonstrate the confidence of registry users and stakeholders in my ability to be the next register.

As Assistant Register, I am well versed in the day-to-day operations, both at the counter and behind the scenes. Some of my responsibilities include preparing bill warrants, training new employees, supervising employees, managing the technology fund, and assisting in the hiring process and budget preparation.

Becoming the next register is a logical next step, and something that I am passionate about and have worked hard for. I have already demonstrated the ability to run the office efficiently and effectively, and will provide a seamless transition that will allow the office to move forward without negative impact on its users.

Currently, you are the manager of Dukes County. What qualifies you to head the Registry of Deeds?

Ms. Thornton: As the Dukes County manager for the past four years, I have overseen all county departments, including the Registry of Deeds. I work closely with the register on their budget, personnel, and capital expenditures, and have an in-depth knowledge of policies and financial reporting. I manage the courthouse where the registry is located. I have consistently proven to be an effective leader by providing more services without increasing the budget.

I am endorsed by over 50 community leaders — selectmen, commissioners, attorneys, real estate agents, businessmen, and public officials, including Noreen Mavro Flanders, elected Dukes County Treasurer for over 20 years.

I have a master’s degree in law and a real estate broker’s license. I understand the statutes governing the registry and real estate matters. I have firsthand knowledge of the needs of attorneys and brokers. I worked at the registry for five years as a title examiner and real estate paralegal. I have led the project of scanning and electronic archiving of county maps and documents. I know how the registry works.

I have a unique and well-rounded skill set that is ideal for the register. I have a vision of how the registry can implement improvements while being fiscally responsible and fulfill its potential.

Please describe what you see as the responsibilities of the Register of Deeds. If elected, what if any changes would you institute?

Mr. DeOliveira: The register serves as Land Court’s assistant recorder and holds standard managerial responsibilities of bill warrants, payroll, performance evaluations, month- and year-end reports, preparing the budget, etc. However, this is a unique office, and the position of register is not a simple nor standard managerial one.

The register must be able to resolve complex questions related to recording that arise on a daily basis. The proper recording of documents has potential implications for home and land owners, and the register holds the responsibility of determining the recordability of each document that is submitted; therefore, they must be the most knowledgeable in terms of practice and procedure. Having the in-depth knowledge necessary to address concerns quickly and accurately is not something that comes from experience using the registry, but rather requires years of experience becoming well versed in the complexities of the office.

If elected, I look forward to using my firsthand knowledge of the office to improve its effectiveness and efficiency for its users. Digitizing records and caring for and preserving our important historical documents will continue to be a focus. Additionally, I will work to make improvements related to the online availability of grantor/grantee index books, faster return of documents, community outreach, digital security, and the implementation of a disaster recovery plan.

Ms. Thornton: Main tasks at the registry are recording and collection of fees, indexing, scanning and microfilming, proper storage of documents and plans, and assisting clients with research as needed. The Register of Deeds is responsible for the smooth operation of the entire department. The register determines if documents can be recorded or not, which can get tricky with complex closings. The register prepares monthly financial reports and transfers collected fees to pertinent accounts.

The current register has done a great job. The staff at the registry is well trained, but there is always room for improvement. I would like to take advantage of the new technologies to execute all aspects of registry operations efficiently, and to effectively improve our community’s experience. I would like to expand the online database to the industry standard of at least 50 years. Then, I would like to make available online grantor and grantee index books (1640–1983) for convenience. This will cut down research time and save money. I would like to make the registry facility more user-friendly, improve flow of recording, and create an online resource guide with relevant links. I also believe that it is important to properly preserve and showcase historic documents and maps that are part of our Island history.