Chance problem with key leads to county records discussion

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

A chance problem with a key to Osage County's records storage facility resulted in county commissioners deciding last week that no non-governmental entity, such as an abstract company, should have its own key.

County Clerk Robin Slack explained that someone with Smith Brothers Abstract apparently approached county maintenance personnel when a key to the records building didn't work. Slack said it turned out the key would still work, but the person who was using it apparently didn't know just how to maneuver the key in the lock.

Slack had not been aware that anyone from Smith Brothers had a key in their possession that wasn't in some way checked out and returned. She responded by placing an item on the June 14 agenda of the Board of County Commissioners, to get a response from them about the propriety of an abstract company having its own key.

The result is that the lock to the records storage facility has been re-keyed.

A representative of Smith Brothers last week told the Journal-Capital that the company no longer had a key to the records building, and would be willing to work with county officials. The company representative said Smith Brothers will not have a problem with being required to ask for the key from now on.

Another element that made its way into the discussion was that a number of county court case records were reportedly being stored at Smith Brothers Abstract. When the Journal-Capital talked with Court Clerk Jennifer Burd about that situation, she explained that the records were all, to her knowledge, items that had been stored by Smith Brothers for a long time, essentially as a favor to the county.

Burd, however, followed up on the issue and informed the Journal-Capital that she had decided to retrieve the old court case records.

"After our discussion I called the abstract office to verify that the housing of those records was not of benefit to them, because I have always believed that they were not and that they were stored there merely as a favor," Burd told the Journal-Capital in an email. "That decision as I said predated my employment with the county. After speaking with them they did say that they access theses files very occasionally and have provided information in them to Buffalo Land Abstract.

"I do not want even the appearance that one company is receiving a benefit over the other so I have made the decision to retrieve these files," Burd added. "It will take some time as I was told there are a lot of them. Most likely when I receive them back most of them will be destroyed per statute. They are all microfilmed or digitally scanned. I also think this is better because information regarding those cases should be obtained from my office and not another party."

The June 21 agenda of the Board of County Commissioners, as posted June 18, contained agenda items related to title company access to the county's records storage facility, and with regard to the old court case records reportedly stored at Smith Brothers.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones on Friday told the Journal-Capital that county officials will be working through the issues related to the records storage facility, and that a satisfactory resolution will be especially important in light of the fact that the office of County Assessor Ed Quinton Jr. will need to use a portion of that building in coming months, while work is done on the Assessor's Office.