As the elected Register of Deeds for Suffolk County, I serve the residents of the cities of Boston, Chelsea and Revere, as well as the Town of Winthrop. I live in the Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park with my wife Bridget Simmons Murphy. I am a lifelong resident of Suffolk County, a graduate of Boston Latin School, and a former Boston City Councilor and Council President.
In 2017, in my first year as register, the Registry of Deeds recorded over 132,000 documents. The value of the consideration stated on the deeds recorded totaled over $13 billion dollars. The revenues collected totaled over $76 and a half million dollars and every dollar collected was accounted for and deposited in the Commonwealth’s General Fund.
In the last year, we made the Registry of Deeds more accessible by:
- Improving the Suffolk Registry of Deeds’ website suffolkdeeds.com. The new site is designed to allow better access on mobile devices, like phones and tablets. The National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH ensured the website was accessible to persons who use assistive technology such as keyboard only navigation and screen readers. In addition, the website allows for non-embedded text to be enlarged and contrasted assisting persons with visual impairments. The website was equipped with Google Translator which allows all non-embedded text to be translated into dozens of languages providing access to those residents of our county whose first language is not English.
- Traveling to locations across Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, the program “Traveling Tuesdays” has brought the Registry of Deeds to every corner of Suffolk County. The program answered the real estate questions of hundreds of residents, printed and certified copies of deeds and assisted homeowners in the completion and recording of homestead forms.
In the last year, we made the records at the registry more reliable by:
- Reducing the back log in Registered Land Certificates of Title. In March of 2017 there were 4,000 certificates created as far back as 2012 that needed to be reviewed and approved. These unapproved certificates were not available on the internet and could only be viewed at the Registered Land counter. Today that number stands at 0 – a 100% reduction in the backlog.
- Improving the quality of the indexing of names and addresses at the registry. Coming into the registry in December of 2016, I was aware of spelling errors in the index – older ones and some newer ones – they are the result of human error. Documents are recorded and indexed at the counter; the indexing is then corrected and verified by our staff. As the register, I added a second level of verification where each day’s recordings are visually inspected by a staff member for spelling errors, an exception report is created, and a manager makes any additional corrections.
In the last year, we made the records at the registry more secure by:
- Replacing the cooling system in the server room. The entire registry’s computerized records sit on Oracle servers at the registry, although all the records are backed up off sight, if the servers over heat the registry cannot record documents. We recently replaced the refrigeration system in the server room and installed our first back up cooling system. This upgrade keeps our servers and the records they hold safe.
- Repairing the bindings and reprinting the worn pages in older index books. I discovered that some of the older books containing grantor/grantee indices were in very poor condition. We have started a project by which we are bringing these books to a local book bindery in Charlestown and having the bindings on the books rebound and the worn and frayed pages replaced and re-sown.
We have made many positive improvements at the Suffolk Registry, but here is what I intend to do when I am re-elected:
- First and foremost, my goal is to continue to provide the citizens of Suffolk County and all those who use the registry with great customer service. Last year, several residents came into the registry who spoke Cantonese and the language barrier only added to their confusion – shortly thereafter I hired an individual who speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin. As a result, our customer service has greatly improved – I want to continue making those types of improvements.
- Second, I want to improve the search function on the Suffolk Registry of Deeds website. By statute, the Suffolk Registry’s information technology, all of our IT including the website www.masslandrecords.com, are intertwined with Secretary of State’s IT. In order to make changes in Suffolk, we need to make the same changes in the Secretary of State’s office and in several other state-based registries. Online research continues to grow exponentially; we need a web-based search that meets the needs of our users. That is only going to come with a new system and updated technology – I look forward to being involved in the design and roll out of that system and ensuring the end product serves the needs of Suffolk residents.
- I also want to better use technology to improve the accuracy of the day to day document indexing and correct inaccuracies in the older indexing. Currently all data entry is keyed in by our staff and is, in turn, subject to human error. In the information age – we need to take advantage of the very latest technology. Programs like Optical Character Recognition technology ensure that what is being typed into the system accurately reflects what appears on the documents being recorded. When we stop simply using the computer for data entry and allow technology to assist us in our work we will get the results we desire – to see that change come into effect is one of my top priorities.
I have dedicated my life to public service and truly believe it is a noble profession. From my time as a Budget Analyst in the State Senate, to my role as City Council Councilor and Council President, to my role as Suffolk Register of Deeds, I have always helped anyone who needed help, sought fairness for all, and worked every day to ensure we are best serving the public. From my work as the co-author of Boston’s Living wage, to my leadership in bringing much needed CORI reform not only to Boston but statewide by working with Governor Deval Patrick, to partnering with local community development corporations and housing advocates to address the many issues arising from the foreclosure crisis and monitoring housing trends, to making the registry more accessible to all by bringing the registry into every neighborhood of Suffolk County, I feel my record as an elected official is proof that I have never lost sight of the importance of public service and fairness to all.
During the campaign, some have said that the Register of Deeds is a figure head position and that the focus of the register should be on creating more affordable housing and that the registry should function more like a CDC and provide programing for first time homebuyers and distressed homeowners. People holding those opinions simply do not understand the importance of the registry and the role of the register. The Registry of Deeds and the position of register were created by statute almost 400 years ago because accessible, reliable, and secure land records are the core building block upon which our government and our economy are built. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the essence of the American experience, begins with food, water, and shelter. Our homes are our shelter – the job of the register is to help protect your home.
The Register of Deeds has very limited statutory authority and a budget of $2 million dollars, over 90% of which is payroll. The register does not have the statutory authority or the budget to expand affordable housing in Suffolk County – that authority lies with the federal, state and local governments. The local CDCs are doing an excellent job delivering important services and programs at the neighborhood level. Using tax dollars and limited grant money to duplicate the services CDCs provide without the training, experience, and expertise the CDCs possess is not in the best interest of the residents of our county.
My job as the Register of Deeds is to make the registry the best it can be and provide the residents of our county with accessible, reliable, and secure real estate records. Both my opponent and I agree that the Suffolk Registry of Deeds has great staff and performs well, where we disagree is on the mission of the office. The job of register, in and of itself, is an important one – and to do it well requires the full attention of the register dedicated to the mission which is clearly defined in M.G.L. c. 36 to ensure accessible, reliable, and secure real estate records. As your register, that has been my focus for the last two years and we have made substantive improvements. I love this job and it would be an honor to continue to serve you.
Remember, Election Day is Tuesday, September 4th, the day after Labor Day! When voting, please notice the ballot has two sides! Please flip the ballot over and continue making your choices on the backside, and when you do, I ask for your vote for Suffolk Register of Deeds. Thank you for your consideration.