Even though their number of years working in the office may differ, both candidates running in the Aug. 7 Republican primary for Cole County recorder of deeds feel they have the knowledge and experience to run the office effectively.
Incumbent Recorder Ralph Bray was elected to his first term in 2014. Challenger Judy Ridgeway was the chief deputy recorder but left the office in February to campaign for the recorder's position.
The county recorder's office is responsible for recording public documents and preserving them for historical retrieval and legal review. This includes real estate records, marriage licenses, tax liens and discharge papers.
Bray retired in 2014 from Missouri State Parks, where he focused on preservation of state historic sites and also worked to protect historic documents and objects.
Prior to her departure, Ridgeway said, she performed numerous duties as deputy recorder, which included everything from training the office staff to recording documents in the proper order. She was there for 18 years.
During a candidate forum Tuesday night at City Hall and sponsored by the News Tribune, Bray said people usually think the main role of the office is to record marriage licenses and preserve real estate records.
"We do around 600 marriage licenses every year," he said. "We have to preserve the real estate records so they are always available in the future."
Ridgeway said part of the role of recorder is to understand the different types of documents the office handles.
"If you record a trust, you have to make sure the paperwork is done in the right order because if you don't then it cost the resident more money in the future," she said. "This office handles documents dealing with over a billion dollars of real estate, so it's important to help citizens understand legal descriptions, especially if they're working to keep a property in their family."
One of the challenges of the office, Bray said, is educating the public about what the office does.
"It's a complicated office," he said. "Letting young people know what we do, without getting too dry about it, is something I like to do."
If elected, a challenge Ridgeway said she would have to deal with is a gap in indexing of some documents.
"I wrote the grants to get the digital equipment to help do searches of documents and some of those searches are still not complete," she said. "If you don't know what to do, someone could go through 10 steps when they need to use only one. I was told when I worked there, by those who were frequent users, that we were the most efficient office to search documents from, and I don't believe it's that way today."
Ridgeway emphasized she would be an experienced, hands-on recorder, if elected.
"It takes years to learn the basics of the office, and I already have done that," she said. "The recorder should be a professional administrator, not a politician. I want to answer citizens questions, and if I don't know it, I'll go and find the answer."
Bray feels he's been hands on since he was elected and plans to continue to do so, if voters re-elect him.
"We've caught up a lot since I got there," he said. "We're prioritizing the budget for future projects. A lot of documents still need to be digitized and equipment upgraded. I'm there everyday with four deputy recorders and they do the day-to-day work. I want to know what they need to do a better job."
Ridgeway said her departure from the office in February, when she announced her candidacy, was a bit contentious between Bray and herself.
"I was disappointed because when I decide to run, I told Ralph I would not leave for 30 days so he might be able to get someone to help in the office," she said. "He told me to leave immediately if I was going to run, and I was not prepared for that."
Bray said, "I remember it well because I was there early and she announced she was going to run for office. I told her to make her resignation effective immediately. There was a history of issues and I knew she had been thinking about running. She never provided a resignation letter so it went into the record as a termination."
When asked if there was a deadline to get marriage licenses at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Bray said he was unaware of any such deadline.
"The financial books close at 4 p.m. and an application for a marriage license can take up to 20 minutes to complete," he said. "We don't turn people away, but what we have done is say go ahead and get the application done and pick up the license later. We want to be as accommodating to customers as possible."
Ridgeway said she too was unaware of any such deadline and said she would work to make sure a couple wanting a marriage license on a Friday afternoon could get it.
"If I had been there, I would have given it to them because when I worked there, I was always willing to do what needed to be done," she said. "That meant sometimes I was there after 4:30 p.m. when the courthouse closed."
Ridgeway wants voters to know, if she's elected, she will make sure that documents are protected.
"Things like Social Security numbers need to be taken off documents and that's not happening all the time now," she said. "I believe those who use the office must feel that what information they have will be safe."
Bray said he should be re-elected because he lived up to his initial campaign promises.
"When I was elected, we were the only first-class county recorders office not offering e-technology to help residents find their important documents," he said. "Now, we have the machines available to provide secure information and results that businesses such as bankers need and the ability to do that from their offices.
"When I first ran, the office had a history of opening late, closing early and sometimes not opening at all on random days. Since I've been there, we're always open during normal business days and never have closed early."