Of seven local elections for Greene County voters to weigh in November, only the race for recorder of deeds is contested.
Republican incumbent Cheryl Dawson-Spaulding faces Democratic challenger Melissa Miller. In early October, the two are having what appears to be a quiet race to Nov. 8, with minimal campaigning on both sides.
A Missouri Ethics Commission report for the Dawson-Spaulding for Recorder committee shows Dawson-Spaulding took in a $2,000 donation from the Greene County Republican Central Committee, and her major expense for the campaign cycle is more than $1,300 for a website. The same report for the Committee to Elect Melissa Miller for Recorder of Deeds shows $60 from two private donations, with no real expense payments to speak of. Both campaigns filed “limited activity” reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission 30 days after the August primary.
What does a recorder of deeds do?
- Records and maintains all records related to real property
- Files and maintains military discharge records
- Files and maintains federal tax liens and state tax liens
- Issues marriage licenses and maintains marriage license records
The Office of the Greene County Recorder of Deeds employs nine people, and the recorder makes an approximately salary and benefits package of $86,000 per year. Employee salary and benefits packages range from about $29,500 up to $66,340, according to Greene County’s 2022 operating budget documentation.
Miller, the challenger, is a political newcomer who resides in Springfield.
“My background is in construction, specifically design and construction management,” Miller said.
Miller and her husband purchased a home on West Walnut Street in Springfield in 2017, and then their lives changed — as did many other lives — with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“I have spent the last five years restoring one of the historic homes on Walnut Street in Springfield, and that’s my personal residence,” Miller said. “In that time, I’ve also become the primary provider of care for my two young sons, especially in great thanks to the pandemic.”
As the incumbent, Dawson-Spaulding says many Greene County residents probably don’t understand the recorder’s job duties.
“Unless they need us, they don’t really know what we do,” Dawson-Spaulding said.
Dawson-Spaulding was the deeds office manager and chief deputy for 12 years prior to the election of her first term.
“I’ve actually got a long history with the office. I started when I was still in college doing data entry, so I actually started working for the office in 1992 and worked for two previous recorders,” Dawson-Spaulding said.
Linda Montgomery served four terms, starting with her election in 1995 and ending with her retirement at the end 2010. That retirement led to Dawson-Spaulding running for election to the top spot in the office.
“I was encouraged by my predecessor because I was operating as her chief deputy and she just approached me and said, ‘Have you ever considered running for office?’ and I said, Well, no, really I haven’t,’ and she said, “Well, you need to.’”
Motives on the job
Dawson-Spaulding hopes her experience makes her stand out to voters. There have been only two women to hold the office of Greene County recorder of deeds in the past 27 years.
“I was here when all of the technological advances took place, and so I remember how everything was done when we just started and why we got from Point A to Point B,” Dawson-Spaulding said.
Dawson-Spaulding started as a part-time temporary worker doing data.
“I was taking classes in computers, and there was a lady who was in one of my classes who worked for the recorder’s office, and I guess they were looking for somebody to help at that time doing data entry,” Dawson-Spaulding said. “She approached me and said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’ and I said, ‘Well, I might be.’”
That quickly turned into full-time, permanent employment, and that came with some learning on the job.
“I knew next to nothing, I was still living at home, I had no idea of the difference between a warranty deed and a deed of trust,” Dawson-Spaulding said.
Why is Miller seeking the position?
Miller’s path to seeking political office has been recent. She describes herself as a person who prefers to be in the background rather than an outspoken leader.
“I would never call myself a politician,” Miller said. “For me, the most important thing is to leave behind a world that is better than what I was born into.”
Events of 2022, namely the Dobbs vs. Jackson U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the right to an abortion and effectively overturned Roe vs. Wade on a national level got her interested in getting involved.
“With some of the moves that have been made by the Republican Party as well as the Supreme Court, namely the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, I felt like I needed to take a more active role in what was happening,” Miller said.
From there, Miller said she researched what she could do on a local level in Springfield.
“Initially, this began as an inquiry into what I could do to help the Democratic Party locally, and in that search, I was offered the chance to be the candidate for one of three positions that elections were being held for in this cycle,” Miller said. “I felt the most confident with my background, skills and knowledge that recorder of deeds would be the best fit for me.”
Clients and customer service
Miller hopes voters choose her for her desire to be attentive to details and to be honest with citizens.
“It’s basically record keeping, and I feel like given my education and background I would be a benefit to that office simply because I understand not only the importance of accurate documentation and record keeping, but also bringing integrity to the office and making sure that I represent not just the people who agree with me, but everyone,” Miller said.
She hopes that when a Greene County property owner comes to the recorder’s office, they would be met with, “a sense of comfort and exceptional customer service, basically, because that’s really the role. You are performing a service, they come in and they ask for something, and you make sure that their needs are met,” Miller said.
Dawson-Spaulding also discussed customer service, and expressed hope for people who come to the recorder’s office, “that it was a good experience, that we’re helpful and if we can’t answer their question, we try and get them to where they need to be. I’ve got great people, we’ve got good staff, they’re very helpful.”
One way she hopes to help people past and present is by digitizing some of Greene County’s oldest records that date to its founding in 1833.
“I just undertook a project where most of our historic records are digitized, but we had about 900 books that were not, and so I have just started a project to get those 900 books digitized,” Dawson-Spaulding said.
That will entail taking physical copies of deed books or microfilm and turning the documents into digital images and document files.
What to do after election: focus on retention
If she is reelected, Dawson-Spaulding said she plans to find ways to encourage employee retention in the recorder’s office.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Dawson-Spaulding said. “The staff that I have currently, a lot of them have been with me for several years. I don’t look forward to the day when I have to start replacing them, because I know there are going to be challenges.”
Greene County generally offers decent holiday time off and benefits, Dawson-Spaulding said, but it can be difficult to compete with the starting wages that certain public sector jobs offer.
“It’s a hard market right now, and we have a small office. We’re cross-trained, and if we’re short I’m working the front counter or I am doing data entry.”
People are also at the forefront for Miller. If elected, she said one of her first steps would be to meet with current employees to break the ice.
“I hope that coming into the office we can have a team meeting and basically get to know each other, and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Miller said. “I definitely want to honor the service that each of those people has performed, because obviously, they’ve been there, they’ve been the boots on the ground doing the work in the recorder’s office.”
Working in an office where the top leader is subject to election can be a challenge, Miller said, be she hopes experienced employees would be willing to get to know her.
“The last thing I want to do is alienate them or see an immediate exodus of everyone in the office. Obviously, some people are going to be loyal to the current recorder, and I respect that. So if staffing needs arise where we need to hire people, then that is something I have done in the past and am comfortable doing again.”
The Office of the Greene County Recorder of Deeds is housed in the historic courthouse at 940 North Boonville Avenue. The recorder’s office has a 2023 requested budget of $528,927.81, all of which is accounted for by personnel salaries and benefits.