Chapel Hill News

3 Orange County candidates seek Register of Deeds office

There’s a lot more going on than just same-sex marriage in the Orange County Register of Deeds office, incumbent Deborah Brooks said.

Her opponents in the May 6 primary – former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and former deputy Register of Deeds Sara Stephens – agreed. If elected, Chilton has said he will issue same-sex marriage licenses in violation of his oath of office. His opponents said they would not violate the oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions, although Stephens said she might take other steps, such as accepting license applications for when and if same-sex-marriage becomes legal in North Carolina.

Since there is no Republican candidate, the May winner will be unopposed in the Nov. 4 general election.

All three candidates cite management experience. Brooks has worked in the Register of Deeds office for 38 years, and was first elected its chief register almost four years ago. The office will have every land document dating back to 1752 online in the next few weeks, she said.

Chilton was the director of Empowerment Inc. for two years and also served on the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, in addition to running a real estate office.

Stephens cited her current work overseeing more than 400 Carolina Healthcare Solutions sales representatives statewide and her management of a Durham dental practice while a full-time UNC graduate student. She wants to improve customer service and access to important records, she said.

The seventh-generation Orange County native has traced her earliest relatives to Wilmington in 1792, she said. Although she left the Register of Deeds office after five years to seek private sector experience, her heart stayed in Hillsborough, she said.

“It’s such an important thing to be able to give someone who just bought a house the deed or births, deaths, marriages – things of that nature that are life-changing – and to have somenody hold those dear and take care of them the way they should be taken care of,” Stephens said.

Although he could seek higher office one day, Chilton said it’s not far-fetched that he would run for Register of Deeds now. He’s a real estate attorney and has researched Orange and Alamance County land records extensively, publishing the second of four historical atlases in 2012.

“I have a lot of involvement and connection with Orange County’s real estate records. A lot of people didn’t know that about me until relatively recently, so it may come as a surprise,” he said.

He and Stephens agreed the office could use better technology. The existing database lacks clear instructions and doesn’t always work, they said. It’s also important for the office to reach out in Spanish, both in person and on its website, they said.

The only information posted in Spanish on the Register of Deeds website is how to get a marriage license, but you have to know English to find it. Brooks said other Spanish-language resources and county staff who can translate are available.

While Stephens also would like to make birth certificates available online, Brooks said that’s not a good idea.

“That’s something that we will not be doing because of identity theft,” she said.