Fully reopening the office to the public will be the top priority for David Barber when he returns as Alamance County’s Register of Deeds next month.
The county’s Register of Deeds’ office has been mostly closed to the public since March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, though the office reopened at limited capacity in September.
Barber was elected as the county’s Register of Deeds earlier this month, following a 12-year absence during which he served two, four-year terms as clerk of court and returned to private practice as an attorney early last year.
Barber has operated a small law practice in Graham since losing his bid for a third term as clerk in the 2018 Republican primary to Meredith Edwards, a former Alamance County assistant district attorney who went on to defeat Democrat Jeff Allen in that year’s general election.
This spring, Barber defeated fellow Republican Cheryl Halacheff Marley with 6,793 votes (53.44 percent) to her 5,919 votes (46.56 percent) in the primary election. A 15-year veteran of the office and an assistant registrar under the county’s current Register of Deeds Hugh Webster, Marley retired at the end of October.
Aside from expanding public access to the office, he doesn’t foresee making any changes in staffing levels within the office, which currently has about a dozen employees, or any major changes in how the office operates, Barber said in a recent interview with The Alamance News.
Barber plans to lean on his nearly two decades of management experience in reopening the office safely – amid ongoing statewide restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 – though he emphasizes that he will also comply with any county government rules that are in place when he takes office next month.
“Access to the building has been very difficult because of COVID – we are going to open the building,” the incoming registrar explains. “We are going to work with the county to comply, but my own inclination is to let the people decide for themselves whether to wear a mask or not.”
During his previous six-year tenure as Register of Deeds, Barber simultaneously served two, four-year terms as a member of the board of trustees at Alamance Community College, where he helped to oversee a nearly $40 million annual budget. During his eight years as clerk of court, he managed a staff that, due to early retirements and statewide budget cuts after the worldwide economic downturn in 2008, fluctuated between 38 and 42 people, he recalls.
Prior to his initial public service, Barber ran a solo law practice, specializing in criminal and appellate cases; taught history at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota; and worked briefly as a reporter for The Times-News of Burlington in the early 1980s.
The son of a high school history and English teacher and a nurse who worked for Western Electric, Barber and his wife of 18 years, Lana, live today in the same house where he grew up in western Alamance County, he says.
In his newest role, Barber is likely to apply what he characterizes as a “conservative/Libertarian” political philosophy to any decisions he makes as registrar.
“I think the people of Alamance County are smart,” Barber explains. “I also think we are headed toward a phase where a lot of the restrictions will be lifted. I will let [members of] the public use their discretion as much as possible, but also after consultation with the county manager. I want the public to be able to come in and use our office as much as possible.”
There are likely to be some tweaks within the Register of Deeds’ office, which he hopes will improve customer service.
Barber says he wants to look into the possibility of switching to a different software provider that would make the website easier to use. “I will have to do it in consultation with county officials,” he says. “I’ve had some difficulty using it,” and voters shared similar concerns during his campaign earlier this year, Barber adds.
Barber also wants to lower the fee for uncertified copies – from the existing rate of 25 cents to 5 or 10 cents a page – which he says can become particularly onerous for repeat customers such as paralegals and funeral homes. “We always want to have good relationships with the people who come in there a lot,” he says.
Fees for certified copies of documents are uniform across all 100 counties, under a state law that also gives registrars the discretion to set their own fees for uncertified copies, Barber says, pointing to Durham County as one example of a Register of Deeds’ office that charges less than 25 cents per page for uncertified copies.
“Taxes are going up everywhere,” Barber reasons, “and anywhere government can cut back expenses, we should.”
Barber is currently scheduled to be sworn into office December 7.