Copeland, Perry work on Recorder transitionWritten by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eight work days after being sworn in, newly elected Lucas County Recorder Phil Copeland appeared relaxed and confident at his office on the seventh floor of One Government Center, even as he spoke about his own learning curve.
Copeland was a term-limited city councilman when he ran for recorder as a Democrat in November. He garnered 56 percent of the vote to defeat Republican George Sarantou.
Copeland is also the business manager and secretary/treasurer of Laborers’ Local 500, and said his experience managing union affairs for six Ohio counties has given him the experience to succeed in his new position.
“It’s basically the same thing,”
Copeland said, comparing his new responsibilities with the union job.
He described the recorder’s office as a smoothly running machine, but admitted there was a lot to know about his new job.
“You’re not going to learn this in a day or a month or six months even,” Copeland said.
The county recorder is responsible for preserving the land records pertaining to the complete range of legal transactions as well as making those records available to the public. According to the Ohio Recorders’ Association website, the recorder “enforces more than 1000 sections of state law in the Ohio Revised Code.”
Copeland said he intends to be at the office every day, even as he continues to carry out his union duties. Copeland admitted he might not be as “hands-on” as his predecessor, Jeanine Perry, who retired.
“I don’t know if I can be another Jeanine,” Copeland said. “Jeanine did an excellent job. I’m going to do the best I can.”
To underscore his qualifications, Copeland, a self-described native Toledoan from the Avondale projects, pointed to the union office he runs with its staff of eight people. That office collects receivables — for example, contractor fees — Copeland said, and his job has been to account for the money every day and “make sure no money was ever missing.”
At the county recorder’s office, “There is more to learn, and the records go back all the way to the Civil War,” Copeland said, “but basically it is keeping records.”
Retired recorder Perry told Toledo Free Press she thought the transition to Copeland has been “very good.” Perry said Copeland’s chief deputy Jessica Ford was able to join the recorder’s staff on a part-time basis as office manager during the final weeks of Perry’s term. Perry had held that slot open after her own office manager Adam Hansen left in October for a position with the Clerk of Courts. Perry knew her successor would likely choose his own chief deputy and office manager, the office’s two so-called “at will” positions. The recorder’s other 10 staffers belong to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Perry said Ford had a very good handle on the procedures in the office’s three main areas of operation, namely, the counter, where the public is served; scanning, where records are preserved electronically; and data entry, where records are indexed and quality checks undertaken.
Ford, the daughter of former Toledo mayor Jack Ford, came over from the Lucas County Commissioners Office, where she served as executive assistant to Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. Before that, Ford, a University of Michigan graduate, worked for the state treasurer as regional community affairs director for the 17 counties of Northwest Ohio.
Copeland is also relying on former chief deputy recorder Julie East, a 13-year veteran of the recorder’s office. With the arrival of Copeland, East has been shifted down one rung on the organizational chart from chief deputy to the position of office manager. However, both Copeland and East, who said she voted for her new boss, describe her new job title as a lateral move. Copeland said East’s salary was not affected by the change.
To provide an idea of the typical activity in the recorder’s office, East said the staff on a recent day handled more than 400 documents up to 21 pages in length. The Lucas County Recorder’s office has an annual budget of just under $1 million, according to Perry, who said she watched the budget decrease steadily during her five-year tenure, forcing her to do more each year with less. Copeland said he has not yet considered budget numbers.
Copeland, 67, was eager to dispel any confusion about his retirement from Laborers Local 500. The new recorder said he does not have a retirement date in mind at this time. He said as long as “God keeps me healthy” he would retire from the union administration only after completing certain unspecified goals. “When I leave [Local 500], I want to leave it right.”
As for working two jobs, Copeland said he likes being of service and characterized his role as recorder as “just another thing in my life where I volunteered to be of service to the citizens of Lucas County and the citizens of Toledo.”
Nor is he doing it for the money, Copeland said. “I’m trying to be of service and trying to do something that I like. I’m not trying to make two checks.”
Copeland said he has identified one particular aspect of the recorder’s office that he would like to improve and had already discussed the matter with Ford and East but would not be ready to go public with any details for at least a “couple weeks.” Copeland called it the only thing he has seen so far in the recorder’s office that needs to be changed. “I think if I could do that, I’d be doing a service to the employees,” he said.
“This is just the third day of the second week of Mr. Copeland’s term,” Ford emphasized. “So right now we’re really in the process of learning the office, getting to know the staff and becoming familiar with how the office functions.”
Ford described those staff members as “a really great team” doing “a phenomenal job” and providing “top-notch service to the public.” The office is staffed by employees with experience ranging from two years up to 20 years, East said.
Although he intends to be at his new desk every day, Copeland’s union responsibilities will preclude at least one day a month for meetings in Columbus. This week, Copeland will also miss two days in order to attend an orientation in the state capital for new recorders, hosted by the Ohio Recorders’ Association. Ohio Revised Code also requires a minimum number of hours of professional training for new recorders in their first year, Ford said. Copeland plans to bring Ford or East with him whenever he attends training, he said. To provide such training, for the chief deputy has been a past practice of the recorder’s office, Ford said.