Q&A: Kent County Recorder of Deeds candidates respond to issues

Name: Betty Lou McKenna

Party: Democrat

Office sought: Kent County Recorder of Deeds

Age: 80

Occupation: Kent County Recorder of Deeds

Family: Widow, two children (one deceased), six step children, five grandchildren (one deceased) and nine great-grandchildren

Elective experience: 16 years as elected Recorder of Deeds

Name: Eugenia Thornton

Party: Republican

Office sought: Kent County Recorder of Deeds

Age: 68

Occupation: Retired military officer

Family: Married to Lt. Col. Don Jagger (U.S. Army, Ret.) for 42 years.

Elective experience: First time running for elected office

Why are you running for this office?

BLM: Since I was first elected as your Recorder of Deeds, I have seen many changes to the way Kent County Government does business. However, all the changes are to the benefit of our constituents. Our constituents can now have information pretty much at their fingertips or with a little help from our county staff. I look forward to sharing another term with our great county staff, and most of all, with the deeds office staff. The recorder of deeds office is basically a library of records — most importantly land/property records. The deeds staff is constantly working to protect these important documents for the citizens of our great county here in the first state of Delaware.

ET: I am called to public service. This is why I joined the military and stayed for a full career, why I am a Regional Planning Commissioner and why I serve on many boards and committees in Kent County. I noticed that it’s time for new leadership in the Kent County Recorder of Deeds office —time for a breath of fresh air. I am more than qualified for this job by education, training and job experience. I can make a positive difference and I am ready to serve with Courage, Candor, Competence and Commitment.

What about your background qualifies you for the office?

Betty Lou McKenna

BLM: Since graduating from Caesar Rodney High School, I have worked mostly in government positions: State of Delaware (Family Court), Kent County Board of Assessment and Recorder of Deeds for a special assignment, proofing and examining deed records with two attorneys that were appointed by the Superior Court to verify all documents to be correct. These records were very old and had to be verified before they were microfilmed and sent to state archives. After the project was complete I moved immediately to Family Court as secretary to the probation department and court stenographer. Next, I worked for the Levy Court as secretary to the county administrator and Levy Court Commissioners, retiring after 20 years. After a short break, I was contacted by the city manager of Harrington and became their Clerk of Council for 7.5 years when asked to run for Kent County Recorder of Deeds in 2002. I still hold that position today.

ET: 27 years of experience doing similar work in the US Army, working with large complex and secure databases, qualifies me for this office. I am also experienced in public affairs which will enable me to communicate with the public directly, or through the media, what the taxpayers need to know about the deeds office. I am familiar with plats and plans for development based on my 12 years on the dais as a Kent County Planning Commissioner. I have a master’s degree in public administration and took additional masters level courses in journalism. I am certified by American University in Public Records Keeping. I worked at US Cabinet and department levels, so I understand how government functions. I know Kent County, too. I sat on many philanthropic boards here. What about my background qualifies me for this office? Everything!

What would be your top priority if elected?

BLM: When I’m fortunate enough to be reelected, I will continue to perform the duties necessary to keep all land records, other miscellaneous documents of record and all future filings safe and secure, so they will continue to be available to the citizens and legal community for future use. I will continue to upgrade our software and hardware on a need-to basis at little cost to the taxpayers of our county. I continue, always, to look for ways to possibly enhance our service to the public, title searchers and others.

Eugenia Thornton

ET: Day one: talk with the deeds office staff, go over issues identified on my website eugeniathornton.com/issues.html, get their feedback and move forward as a team to resolve problems while preserving what they feel works best. Then, I would do the same with the professionals who use the office. I am a collaborative leader who believes that a learning organization functions best. Throughout my tenure, I would invest time to build relationships, handle conflicts in a constructive manner and share control. I would actively encourage and facilitate learning throughout the enterprise in order to effectively transform the deeds office in an ever-changing and challenging world. My sole objective will be doing what is best for the citizens of Kent County.

If you could change one county policy or law, what would it be?

BLM: There are no provisions in Kent County government to adopt or change laws. Only policies and ordinances may be adopted by the Levy Court. The individual row officers may make suggestions and/or recommendations to the Levy Court, but I don’t have any currently. An elected state official recently stated: “The recorder of deeds office runs like a well oiled machine.”

ET: I’d eliminate HOA (Home Owners Association) and other Common Interest Community (CIC) recording fees. Delaware Law 9 Del. C. §9607 (b) has allowed this since 2017. Loss of income to the county would be minimum compared to benefits which are: One, provide financial relief to HOAs, especially the small ones; two, encourage filing of HOA documents in accordance with Delaware Common Interest Ownership Act (2009); three, allow HOA members to review all documents and four, provide a safe repository for all HOA documents, etc. This is a complex issue, please see eugeniathornton.com/law-hoa-fees.html to learn more.

What are the biggest issues presently facing this office?

BLM: Currently, I know of no big issue facing the deeds office.

ET: In 2008, the FBI warned of a white collar crime called “house stealing,” which is a combination of identity theft and mortgage fraud. In 2017, Equifax (one of the three credit bureaus used to compute credit scores) was breached, dumping 1.9 billion personal and sensitive data records onto the dark web.

In 2018, Experian listed Delaware third out of the top eight states in which ID theft might occur. It would be irresponsible of me not to protect Kent County taxpayers by alerting them when changes are made to their recorded documents. Professionals using the database for title searches tell me the current system is easy to use, so unless confronted with new information that refutes this, I would not make other changes to the existing software.

I would add a warning system such as when a credit card has been used to make suspicious purchases. It is not the fault of honest realtors, mortgage brokers, title searchers or the legal community if thievery occurs. Per the FBI, house stealing cannot be prevented. Therefore, our only option is to alert the taxpayers when changes are made to their recorded documents.

What opportunities exist to make this office more efficient or effective?

BLM: With the state-of-the-art imaging system we have, moving forward with needed upgrades on a regular basis and the knowledge, experience and dependability of our staff, I don’t know how we could become more efficient and effective. The old saying “there’s always ways for improvement” is always in the back of my mind, however, a smooth running office is a well run office.

ET: Deeds has the right amount of hard working, dedicated and capable people on staff. However, there are two inefficient areas that cry out for immediate attention — and they are both a failure in leadership, not the fault of the staff. The first has been discussed in the Delaware State News: fix, replace or remove broken or old equipment.

I will not wring my hands and blame others when work orders are moving too slowly — I will make things happen!

The second area for efficiency is there will be no more political campaign activities conducted in the deeds office on county time. This is against county personnel policy so whether I am elected or not, Ms. McKenna needs to stop doing this. It’s wrong.


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