Wake County

With Wake leaders sparring, new Register of Deeds says he hasn’t been contacted about concerns

With $895,000 missing from the Wake Register of Deeds office, the new leader of the office on Friday joined a public spat between some commissioners and the county manager over how quickly the county is moving to prevent future losses.

Register of Deeds Charles Gilliam released a public statement Friday afternoon inviting county commissioners to talk about their concerns regarding the accounting practices in his office, which is under investigation after the cash went missing in recent years. Authorities began probing the office before Gilliam was appointed to the post in April.

Jim Hartmann, the county manager, launched an audit of the office in early February upon hearing reports of missing funds. Laura Riddick, the Register of Deeds for 20 years, abruptly retired from her post on April 1.

Gilliam’s comments come a day after The N&O published a story in which some Wake commissioners criticized Hartmann for not releasing details of deeds office practices and implementing new, countywide cash-handling policies quickly enough.

The 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.

On Friday, Gilliam said the deeds office policy “is stricter than the policy that prevails in the rest of Wake County Government” and that commissioners should’ve contacted him with their concerns.

“I have never been contacted by any county commissioner concerning any matter pertaining to the register of deeds office,” Gilliam wrote. “I know many of the answers to some of their questions that are being vetted in the media, and in some cases, I am the only person who would know the complete answer.”

Gilliam said he’s implemented new cash-handling controls but didn’t elaborate in the statement about what those are.

Hartmann was hired as county manager in 2014, when Republicans controlled the Board of Commissioners. Democrats now hold every seat on the seven-member board. Gilliam, like Riddick, is a Republican.

Greg Ford, one of the harshest critics of Hartmann, says he responded to an email from Gilliam on Friday afternoon to clarify that his issues are not with the deeds office specifically but with Hartmann’s “failure to respond appropriately to our questions regarding internal controls for cash-handling practices across the breadth of county business.”

“I assured Mr. Gilliam that I appreciated his service and that the only reason I did not contact him regarding this matter was because our concerns remain focused on the departments the Manager oversees directly – not with the Register of Deeds Office under Mr. Gilliam’s leadership, or with the District Attorney’s ongoing investigation,” Ford said.

Commissioner Erv Portman, who also scrutinized Hartmann, said Gilliam might be misinterpreting his concerns but that he’ll call him nonetheless.

“We’re not trying to cast aspersions on him or his department. But obviously, his department lost a lot of money,” Portman said. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can do to ensure we’re implementing the best practices countywide.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht