Commission strips duties from county clerk

Staff report

Curry County commissioners on Tuesday placed all personnel matters in the county clerk’s office under the county manager’s direction.

Commissioner Ben McDaniel said the action was taken, “due to personnel problems and recording issues,” in the office of County Clerk Rosalie Riley, who is an elected official.

“Any issues involving personnel — hiring, firing, reprimanding, anything like that, she can no longer do,” McDaniel said.

Riley called the decision, “a bunch of crap. They have no authority to do this,” she said.

Commissioners approved the action unanimously with Wendell Bostwick absent from the meeting. They met in executive session for 2 1/2 hours before introducing the motion and voting.

McDaniel said the action was spurred by “numerous” complaints from the owners of at least two title companies who’ve documented hundreds of recording errors allegedly made by the clerk’s office.

“Since she is an elected official, there are duties you cannot take away,” McDaniel said. “She is still in charge of elections. But we will be able to bring in people to straighten up the recording.”

McDaniel said he does not believe the clerk’s staff will be dismissed, but the intention is to hire someone who can train them to complete tasks accurately.

“This will be an (added) expense and it may take months to correct everything,” McDaniel said.

He said he could not estimate costs or exactly how long it might take to correct errors and train staff.

Riley on Tuesday night characterized the move as a “witch hunt.” She said the county has no legal authority to take such action and she has contacted an attorney, who she declined to identify other than to say the law firm is in Albuquerque.

Riley said she was confronted in the executive session with innuendo and few specifics.

“Mr. (County Manager Lance) Pyle and Mr. (County Attorney Steve) Doerr have just opened up a mess,” Riley said by telephone. “I just have never seen anything like this in my life. The whole attitude in this county. I have never seen anything like this.”

Riley said she intends to file a lawsuit to stop the actions of the commission and demand specifics.

“I really did feel ganged up on,” Riley said of the closed-door executive session. “I am not worried. I am not embarrassed because I have done nothing wrong. I told them if you have a problem with me or my office, you pick up the phone and call me or come see me. No one did and they pull this.”

McDaniel said public officials began to field complaints about recording errors in the clerk’s office three or four months ago, about the time some experienced staff members left the office.

The issue first became public a few weeks ago when Curry County Assessor Candace Morrison told other officials there have been numerous mistakes made by staff at the county clerk’s office that could get the county sued.

Riley defended her staff, but said an inexperienced crew in an understaffed office has led, at least in part, to some issues.

Page numbers of filed documents have been skipped, omitted or duplicated, according to a letter written by Morrison.

She said there have been at least two instances in which documents were filed without proper signatures. Also, according to her letter, there have been four instances in which deeds were filed that lie outside the municipalities, which do not have certificates of filing attached — a requirement set forth by county ordinance and state statute.

Riley had said action was being taken to correct the issues.