Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Registry of Deeds for the Southern District of Middlesex County, at 208 Cambridge St., is getting a new register — essentially during the Thursday primary. (Photo: Josh Michtom)

The retirement of Eugene C. Brune after 24 years in office (after nine as mayor of Somerville) has set off a six-way scramble for the office of register of deeds for the Southern District of Middlesex County — all Democrats, which means the winner of Thursday’s primary will likely take the seat after the Nov. 6 election.

Title examiner Heather Hoffman, who is active in Cambridge politics, said she has seen plenty of billboards, lawn signs and mass mailings for candidates, but found the lack of coverage in media such as Cambridge Day disappointing considering the importance of the office. She suspects she knows the cause:

“Few people outside my line of work have any idea what the Registry of Deeds is and what the register does, but the records in that building are nonetheless very important — they form the basis for the title to every piece of real estate in 44 cities and towns, including Cambridge,” Hoffman said.

By the reckoning of Hoffman and other users of the Registry — which has included Cambridge Day on some long, frustrating and confusing days — the office needs an administrator committed to making records as accessible as possible to the public, dealing with a backlog of more than seven years in registered land records and long lines for recording, improving employees’ work habits and morale and maintaining the integrity of the records. Hoffman’s assessment of the state of the records, at least partially confirmed by visits from Cambridge Day:

Many of the books are falling apart.  Pages are missing from some books.  No books exist for a substantial percentage of the records, just electrons. When the computers go down, we have no access at all to those records. Also, some documents were never scanned or were scanned only partially, leaving nothing but the index entry for us to rely on. Paper indices and electronic indices work differently, and that affects someone’s ability to find relevant records in a search.

“I also expect a register of deeds to have at least some understanding of what the records in his/her custody are and who uses them and how,” she said. “None of these problems are insoluble, but they have been around for decades to a greater or lesser degree, and making a good choice now is our best hope for making them a thing of the past.”

To fill the gap, she gathered links to candidates nights and has interviewed two of the candidates — the others did not respond to multiple phone calls and/or e-mails, she said — that could help make up some voters’ minds.

The candidates are Robert B. Antonelli; Cambridge lawyer Frank Ciano (whose interview can be listened to here); former Newton mayor Tom Concannon; lawyer and former health care administrator (and sister to the current mayor of Somerville) Maria Curtatone; lawyer, real estate broker and Wakefield selectman Tiziano Doto; and Maryann Heuston, director of operations and training for the Cambridge Health Alliance.

Concannon was recently in headlines when the Newton Tab reported he was behind $3,880 in back taxes to the city on his Newtonville home as of Aug. 29, including $2,640 for this year and $1,248 for next year. “I’ve just been tied up with the election,” Concannon told Chloe Gotsis at the Tab last week, adding that he intended to pay his taxes at that time. (His interview can be listened to here.)

A candidates night sponsored by the Newton League of Women Voters with Ciano, Concannon, Curtatone, Doto and Heuston is here.

A candidates night sponsored by the Belmont League of Women Voters with Ciano, Concannon and Heuston is here.

A question-and-answer with the candidates in The Somerville News is here — with Antonelli again missing.

Some voters will be reluctant to vote for a candidate, meaning Concannon, two years behind on his property taxes; others may wonder at a candidate such as Antonelli, who has declined to answer questions to a newspaper, voter and user of the Registry or to appear at candidate events.

Ciano and Curtatone say eliminating the backlog is their primary goal, while Doto addresses the issue in a more political way, saying “it’s time to take patronage, favoritism and politics out of the Registry and turn it into a professional, modern, user-friendly office” and Heuston takes a positive approach, saying she will implement “new technologies to improve the quality, reliability, and accessibility of Registry services.”