Helping people move forward

Sunday, January 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:57 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

One of the things Bettie Johnson likes most about being the recorder of deeds is the mood of people who come to her office. People come to Johnson when they want to get married or are about to buy a house. Generally, it’s a happy time. “That’s a positive part of the government,” Johnson said. “We don’t have irate customers.”

Keeping track of marriage licenses and real estate transactions are Johnson’s primary duties. And it makes for a lot of paperwork. Walking into her office is like opening an old book: You can smell the history. Hundreds of volumes of records, some dating back to 1821, line dozens of shelves.

Johnson, 62, was first elected keeper of those records in 1978. Back then, she said, records were written by hand.

“We also roll-indexed all the documents by hand,” she said. “It took several hours a day for several employees.”


Pictured here in 1984, Bettie Johnson helped to establish Boone County as the first Missouri county to adopt electronic recording in 2003. (Missourian file photo)

But times have changed. While the average number of property transactions the office records daily has risen from 98 in 1995 to 151 in 2006, the workload is not necessarily greater because records are now computerized.

“Because of that, we have as many employees as 10 years ago,” Johnson said.

In 2003, Boone County became the first Missouri county to adopt electronic recording, allowing documents to be filed by computer from almost anywhere in the world.

“For me, it was the way we were going to do business in the future,” Johnson said, “so I wanted to be part of it.”

Johnson also took the lead in establishing the county’s Web site. On the recorder’s Web page, people can do online research on marriage licenses and real estate deals, as well as learn what documents to bring into the office.

Johnson said she put extra money from the recorder’s fund toward the creation of the larger Web site.Johnson also finds humor in her work. There have been several occasions, she said, when a couple has come in for a marriage license and the bride-to-be discovers her fiancé has been married before, sometimes more than once. Johnson has even delivered a marriage license to the church because the couple left the document in her office.

Last September, Johnson finished a term as president of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers, for which she also has served as secretary and vice president.

“At each of these positions, Bettie Johnson was extremely organized, efficient, fair and open to suggestions,” said Tony Sirvello, executive director of the Inter-national Association. “She is a delightful person to know.”

Johnson said involvement with such groups is a good way to learn new ideas and to “maintain Boone County’s reputation.”

Johnson said voters’ recognition of her and her colleagues’ commitment to the county was a big factor in the rejection of a charter form of government in March 1996. The charter would have overhauled county government, converting many of the elected positions to appointed ones. It didn’t come close to passing. That, she said, was a big morale boost.

“That’s one of the best highlights of my career here.”

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