Wake County leaders plan to exert more oversight over the Register of Deeds office, where $2.3 million has gone missing since 2008.
County commissioners on Monday are expected to vote on a measure that reinforces some of the county’s legal authority over the deeds office, which came under investigation earlier this year after money was reported missing.
Commissioners will consider adopting a memorandum of understanding that states, among other things, the county’s authority to audit the deeds office once a year and examine its books at any time.
“This MOU makes it clear that for Wake’s purposes that the manager and his staff are going to have the authority to audit,” commissioner John Burns said.
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The county manager, Jim Hartmann, and county attorney, Scott Warren, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
State laws grant the county’s finance officer authority over the deeds office – even though it’s run by an elected official. In adopting the MOU, commissioners will acknowledge not only what they “can do” but also what they “will do,” said Luther Snyder, deputy director of the deeds office.
“It’s more of an agreement that this will happen,” Snyder said, referring to the annual audit.
Charles Gilliam, who was appointed Register of Deeds earlier this year, is on board with the measure, Snyder added. Gilliam last month criticized many of the office’s longstanding cash-handling practices and the lack of oversight.
“For 17 years, nobody ever came. So if something was being set up to make it easy to embezzle, nobody ever saw it,” Gilliam said in an August interview.
The deeds office has come under intense scrutiny this year after county officials discovered that cash had gone missing.
The person at the heart of the mystery is former Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, who was first elected to the office in 1996 and resigned in April, citing health problems. In June, The News & Observer reported that Riddick’s office violated the most basic rules for handling cash.
Records showed that an employee collected cash from tellers, most of it uncounted, and delivered it to Riddick. She routinely was the first person to make a daily count and written record of currency received by her office.
The State Bureau of Investigation is probing the office, and an internal audit found that a total of $2.3 million in cash went missing over a nine-year period starting in 2008.
The Register of Deeds Office records real-estate transactions, birth and death certificates and marriage licenses. Those licenses, which cost $60, were required to be paid for in cash and accounted for much of the currency that passed through the office.
County staff on Monday plans to update Wake commissioners on the deeds office and cash-handling practices. The county this year has provided in-person training for 739 cashiers and their supervisors, agenda materials show.