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3 Republicans make pitch for Register & Recorder

Some offices at the Warren County Courthouse — commissioners, courts, DA — tend to get more attention than others.

Register & Recorder — and Clerk of Orphans Court — certainly isn’t on that high profile list.

But three Republicans — Lisa Burkhouse, Stephanie Eastman and Lauri Sekerak — are seeking the party’s nomination in next Tuesday’s primary election to face Democrat Kristy Phillips, who is unopposed in the primary, in the general election this fall.

The Register & Recorder’s primary functions are caring for the county’s property records, handling estate document and marriage documents, among other responsibilities.

It’s an office whose responsibilities are largely set by statute.

So why does it matter who is in the role?

“The public needs someone who is competent and qualified in the role of Register and Recorder,” Sekerak said. “It is important to have someone who is knowledgeable is all aspects of the responsibilities of this office, willing to work with the customers, know the laws and carry out in a professional manner.”

“The taxpayers should be able to trust that there is an experienced and reliable person in this office,” Eastman added.

“There is a tremendous amount of tradition in the offices held by elected public officials, Burkhouse said. “It’s imperative that elected officials not become stagnant in their role.”

She said the next Register & Recorder should also be a “progressive thinker who is willing to develop the traditions to better suit the needs of the taxpayers and community professionals.”

Sekerak highlighted a need to be “honest and transparent” as well. “Municipalities have suffered in the past due to incorrect accounting and incorrect reporting.”

With that in mind, the million dollar question becomes this — who is the best candidate for the job? Each candidate made that pitch.

“The previous Register and Recorder has trained me for this position,” Eastman, who took over for Lori Bimber early this year when Bimber retired, explained. Her prior experience, she said, includes “30 years of financial experience” working at several local banks.

Eastman said she served in the office in deputy positions before being appointed to the top job.

“No other candidate has been trained to fulfill this position,” she said.

See PITCH / A-3

Burkhouse cited prior experience working in the Register and Recorder’s office as well as current work as office manager in the county assessment office. She also highlighted business, real estate and financing experience.’

“My heart has always gravitated toward service-oriented positions where I could have a positive impact on the lives of others,” she explained. “I hope that voters will choose me based on my unique combination of professional experience, strong moral character, good sense of humor and giant heart for the community I love.”

She said she feels like “the only candidate with a strong full-time work history” and “current office management at the county level.”

For Sekerak, “this is not just a job but the fulfillment of a lifetime passion for public service to the community.”

After securing a degree in environmental science and political science, Sekerak said she completed training in real estate, abstracting and accounting.

“I have 38 years of experience utilizing the Register and Recorder office not only in Warren County but throughout counties in Western Pennsylvania,” she said, founding Rem Abstract Services in 1985 “serving attorneys, oil and gas and timber companies to present time.”

“I have over 40 years of professional experience in office procedures, budgeting, managing employees, filing reports with local and state agencies,” Sekerak added. “I have the ability to work with the public, attorneys, without prejudice or malice, being respectful of customer’s requests, concerns and complaints.”

All three highlighted technological advancements as improvements they would bring to the office if elected.

“Technological upgrades are needed in the Recorder’s office,” Burkhouse said, specifically highlighting a shift to “making public documents available electronically, as well as making it easier to request documents and receive them in a timely fashion. For years the office has refused to use electronic means such as fax or email to send public documents. I would like to change that immediately.”

She spoke more generally about the need to make document more easily available to the public.

“I feel public records belong to the people and we as county employees and elected officials are the ones responsible for keeping them highly organized and accessible.”

Sekerak added she’d offer appointments outside of normal business hours as well repairing books and indexes and implementing a credit card system for payment.

“The consumer should be able to trust the Register and Recorder when transactions are brought in for recording,” she added.

Eastman said she is working to enable computer access to land records between 1875 and 1985 and have “already been exploring the possibility of e-recording, which will allow documents to be recorded electronically which in turn will be more convenient for faster and more efficient service….”

She also raised the idea of a payment system.

Technologically, Sekerak explained that the “basic nature of the work will stay the same” but “how they are recorded and accessed is a new frontier.”

“The filing of documents, deeds, mortgages, wills and marriage licenses through e-filing will grow rapidly in the upcoming decade,” she said, “for smaller counties like Warren this may have beneficial rewards.”

“I would like to have more documents scanned into our system,” Eastman explained. “I understand that there are different work schedules and people have busy lives and I believe our services should be accessible for everyone when they need to record these important documents.’

“We are learning more every day that flexibility is key when it comes to serving the public.”

Burkhouse said the office is “decades behind” technologically and said she’d bring in county IT professionals “to discuss potential upgrades.”

“It would enable the office to run more smoothly and provide greater accessibility to the community in retrieving public records.”

She said officials “will need an open mindset” on technology upgrades. “Less foot traffic in the office leads to freed up time for employees to assist the public and can lead to saving budget dollars for the county.”

Customer service is undoubtedly a key element of the role and each candidate offered thoughts about how they best fill that role.

“My favorite part of any job including my job as Register and Recorder is getting to meet new people and helping them with their needs,” Eastman said. “I take pride in always being able to calm any situation and ensure the person leaves with their problem solved and a smile on their face!”

Burkhouse called “exceptional service” an “obligation” for elected officials.

“We need to be a helper, a guide, a listening ear to visitors…. You must exercise a great deal of compassion while listening to their needs so that you can best assist them at accomplishing their needs.”

She was critical of how the office was managed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the height of the pandemic, the Recorder’s Office quite nearly shut down real estate transactions in Warren County due to abstractors and real estate professionals not being able to access the documents they needed in a timely manner,” Burkhouse said. “Deed searches came to a halt and attorneys were seen by appointment only even if the office was completely empty.

“Moving forward, there will be a complete overhaul in the level of service provided to the Public in the Recorder’s office… I will bring a higher level of flexibility and functionality to the office in order to meet the needs of the public….”

“I have been a consumer of the Register and Recorder’s office for the last 38 years,” Sekerak said. “I have been on the other side of the counter and will use that experience to… improve the customer service for others, by treating customers with respect, dignity and in a fair manner.”

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