Land Records Management & Automated Redaction

Interview with PRIA Secretary and Linn County, Iowa Recorder, Joan McCalmant

Extract: You’re Secretary of PRIA (Property Records Industry Association). How many members strong is PRIA? What is PRIA’s mission?

Joan McCalmant: PRIA has 500+ members and is the leading resource for the land records industry. PRIA develops and promotes national standards and best practices for the land records industry.

Extract: What can Recorders do to future-proof land records management?

Joan McCalmant: There are so many ways to future-proof land records management. We are digitizing, redacting, archiving. It's a continuous challenge to keep up with technology and not lose the authenticity of the land records system that has worked so well for centuries.

Extract: PRIA’s March newsletter reported that eRecording is on the rise – how many jurisdictions nationally are eRecording? What’s driving this expansion? [land records management e-recording]

Joan McCalmant: I believe that we are now over 900 counties e-recording. The number changes daily, it seems. I think the demand for the service is increasing volume. I also think that recorders are pushing ahead and encouraging users to record electronically for many reasons. eRecording has been around long enough now that industry members are seeing the benefits and the advantages of getting documents to the recorders office in new and creative ways. There are days in Linn County where the electronic documents equal the number of documents presented by mail and at the counter.

Extract: Is eRecording a practical investment for counties/jurisdictions with lower populations?

Joan McCalmant: Each County is an individual situation as far as affordability. There are many variables. In Iowa, with the creation of Iowa Land Records, all Counties, large and small, can electronically record. Industry partners are making it easier for any size of County to accept electronic documents for recordation.

Extract: Beyond eRecording, what other technological efficiencies are being deployed by recorders?

Joan McCalmant: There are counties who outsource their indexing and imaging operations. Others are using OCR technology to auto-index documents. Counties are presenting images of their historic indexes and images, so researchers and users do not have to go to their offices to search records back to the origins of counties. Amazing things are happening every day.

Extract: Is a paperless Recorder’s office achievable at some point in the future?

Joan McCalmant: Paperless offices? I don't have a crystal ball, but we may never totally get away from paper. Because recorders deal directly with the public, many of our documents are still presented directly at the counter in paper format. To be fair to all concerned, I think we will be accepting paper for a long time.

Extract: What operational changes did the Linn County Recorder’s office make after the historical flood of 2008 damaged records and the County’s facility?

Joan McCalmant: June of 2008 was a life-changing experience for the Linn County Recorder's Office. We quickly became used to being very creative to get documents to people. Our hard copy historical records that were water damaged by the flood were in the freeze-dryer for several months. At the same time, constituents were coming to our office for proof of ownership for FEMA loans. To this day, we get requests for copies of documents that are not readily available. I have come to be a firm believer of the "lots of copies keep things safe". We have wonderful industry partners who have assisted us for the past five years. They need us, and we need them on a daily basis. It may appear seamless to our users, but it is far from seamless on the flip side!

Extract: How are counties and individuals protecting themselves from mortgage fraud?

Joan McCalmant: The role the recorder plays in helping stop this type of fraud is to get our documents indexed accurately and on record quickly and efficiently so our industry partners can search for outstanding loans in the "gap" period between loan origination and recording. Many counties have systems that allow residents to log in and create a notification system so that if a document is recorded that includes that person's name, they will receive notification that a document is on the county's index. Then, the individual can log into the system or contact the county for further information.

Extract: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Joan McCalmant: There are so many parts of my job that I enjoy. I have the opportunity to work with great people: locally, nationally and globally. It's magical to help people who think they are looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack and are amazed at how quickly we can locate information about relatives, ancestors and themselves. Each day brings new situations, new questions, new challenges.

Extract: Extract's employees often need to explain what redaction is to other people. We were wondering if you have to explain the duties of a county recorder at cocktail parties?

Joan McCalmant: Explaining recorders' duties and the role of County government is always a topic of discussion. I am amazed at how few people truly understand that their mortgage and land records are "public record" - open to anyone and everyone. Once they realize that, they are happy to learn the definition of redaction, and even happier to learn that we redact private information before it goes out on the web.

About the Author: Greg Gies

For 20 years in the software industry, Greg Gies has been helping businesses, government agencies and healthcare organizations achieve their goals and carry out their missions by making better use of information and automating business processes. Greg has held positions in sales, product management and marketing and holds an MBA from Babson College.