John Keith: Why I Should Be Elected the Next Suffolk County Register of Deeds

On Tuesday, November 8th, Jamaica Plain residents will help elect the next Suffolk County Register of Deeds. I believe I am the most-qualified candidate for this position and I humbly ask for your vote. 

John Keith is an independent candidate for Suffolk County Register of Deeds.

John Keith is an independent candidate for Suffolk County Register of Deeds.

By way of introduction, I was born and raised in Massachusetts, graduated from Northeastern University, and been in Boston for 25 years. Currently, I live with my husband Terry in South Boston.

The most-common question I’m being asked on the campaign trail is, “What is a Register of Deeds?” and “Why does it matter who it is?” (Which is actually two questions, I guess.)

The Registry of Deeds is where land transactions are recorded. Anytime someone buys or sells a property, paperwork is filed at the registry to prove ownership. The register is the person in charge of the office.

It’s important that the Register of Deeds have a background in real estate in order to succeed in the position.

I’ve been a real estate broker for the past 14 years, so I’m already very familiar with the registry, from having to deal with it whenever one of my clients bought or sold a home.

It’s also important that the register have management experience because, ultimately, it’s an administrative job. There are 30 employees working at the Suffolk County Registry, with a budget of $1.8 million, bringing in $76 million in revenue.

I have 15 years of experience directly managing teams of eight to 25 people.

A qualified register would be someone who is comfortable around data and has a records processing background. Clerks at the Suffolk County Registry will process over 100,000 transactions, this year alone, and there are already millions of records in its database.

I have worked as a business analyst and software conversion specialist, and just last year I completed a 320-hour, semester-long boot camp at Northeastern being trained on data analysis.

The other question I’ve been asked is, “Why is the Register of Deeds an elected position?”

The short answer is: It shouldn’t be. In fact, we should do away with the office, completely!

The office of register was originally an appointed position, back in the 1600s. Then, for reasons not totally clear, the office was changed to an elected position between 1715 and 1720. It’s been elected ever since (first for a five-year term; now for six).

Three-hundred years ago, it made sense for voters to directly elect a Register of Deeds, because that person was the one in charge of tracking who owned which properties, writing all the information down — in cursive — in one physical book. Land owners wanted to feel comfortable that the register was an honest and trustworthy person, and someone they probably actually knew.

We don’t do it like that, anymore. Real estate documents are more complex, there are thousands of records to process every year, by scores of clerks.

While I’m all for voting and democracy, we’re not getting any better candidates for the office of register than we would if it were a position appointed by the governor.

Yes, granting the governor that power risks turning it into a patronage position, but I’ve yet to be convinced that would be worse than the situation, today.

Turning the register office into a non-elected position is only Step 1 of my proposal. Step 2 is to abolish the position, completely.

Currently, the 21 county registries operate on two completely separate information systems. And, inexplicably, each of the registries has its own website. Meanwhile, each of the registers of deeds earns between $90,000 and $120,000 a year.

That would all change under my proposal.

Every register would lose his or her job. In their place, the Massachusetts governor would appoint one Register of Deeds, similar to how he/she does currently with the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

Doing this would mean decision-making at the registry would be centralized under one person. We’d still have county offices, again, just like the RMV, but only one person ultimately in charge of the department.

I’m making a bold proposal, one that will get plenty of pushback. But, it makes sense — from an organizational point of view, and from a fiscal one, too.

William Galvin, Massachusetts Secretary of State, has implied in the past that he wishes that registers were appointed rather than elected, and Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg has proposed at least reducing the number of registers.

When I get Governor Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo on board, it can happen.

But, that’s further down the line. Right now, I’m running on my promise to do a great job and to offer residents of Suffolk County a transparent and efficient Registry of Deeds.

I look forward to seeing you on Election Day, November 8th

John Keith

Editor’s note: Jamaica Plain News invited the four Suffolk County Register of Deeds candidates to submit op-eds about why they want to be elected to the position on Election Day.