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Julie Smith/News Tribune Judy Ridgeway, candidate for the position of Cole County Recorder of Deeds.

At one time, the candidates in the Aug. 7 Republican primary for Cole County recorder of deeds worked together in that office.

Now, the two say their experience sets them apart.

Incumbent Recorder Ralph Bray was elected to his first term in 2014. Challenger Judy Ridgeway was the 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.

"I started looking at running for this office probably in 2011 because it required a lot of things that I had background in and I seemed to be well suited for it," Bray said.

Prior to her departure, Ridgeway said, she performed numerous duties as deputy recorder, which included training the office staff to record documents in the proper order.

"I was there for 18 years, and I believe the taxpayers deserve a full-time, experienced and hands-on recorder who understands the complexity of this office," she said. "I would not need any training because I already know the job."

When he ran in 2014, Bray said the single biggest issue the recorder's office faced was to continue to stay modern and efficient. He said that's still true today.

"Since I entered the office, we've installed new computer hardware and software upgrades, which includes the ability for residents to go online from their home or office to search Cole County's real estate records," Bray said. "The upgrades also allowed the office to begin accepting credit cards."

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Ridgeway said she's familiar with the upgrades and helped the current staff train on the systems.

"The office handles multitudes of document types, and they require precise recordings," Ridgeway said. "I also want to make sure we continue to protect irreplaceable historical records of our county. The recorder's office is responsible for recording and maintaining records for over a billion dollars' worth of real property."

If re-elected, Bray pledges to do more projects to preserve old record books and convert more office data to digital along with a major update to the recorder's website.

"We still have computer stations in the office for the public to use, but now customers can view documents without having to come in," he said. "We also have a healthy reserve fund to protect against any disasters or unforeseen expenses."

Ridgeway sees the role of the recorder's office as helping to prevent residents from having to pay additional expenses or conflicts with their neighbors or family members.

"This is done by being knowledgeable and educated in the numerous types of deed transactions and helping residents with questions they may have along the process," she said. "Although there is web access to these records, we need to address security issues not just for the users of the records, but to keep the integrity of the records themselves.

"Safeguarding confidential information such as Social Security numbers for the security of patrons remains a critical situation. Records and documents entrusted to the recorder, though public, still contain personal information that needs to be redacted before publication," she said.

Bray said the job brings with it a lot of responsibilities, but what really matters to the people you serve are a few simple things.

"What it comes down to is you need someone who is honest and reliable to take these public documents and take care of them so that they are preserved the way they should be, and I believe I've done that in my time in office," Bray said. "I made the transition from working for the state to being elected to this office, and I haven't looked back."

Ridgeway is eager to get back to work in the office.

"I still get calls from people who have questions about issues that I dealt with at the office so I want to get back there and help them and the rest of the citizens," Ridgeway said. "I'm very thankful that a lot of people remember what I did for them, and I will be committed to helping benefit the citizens."

The winner of the Republican primary will face presumed Democratic nominee Ted Stewart in the November general election.

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