Bosel, Chetock vie for recorder position

Tiffany Chetock

LISBON — Columbiana County Recorder Theresa Bosel is being opposed in her re-election bid by Madison Township Fiscal Officer Tiffany Chetock.

Both made their way to the Nov. 8 general election after winning contested primaries races: Bosel won the Republican primary, defeating Brenda Dickey Myers, while Chetock was victorious in the Democratic primary, beating Sondra Powell.

During her candidate interview, Chetock wasted little time criticizing Bosel, who she described at one point as

“incompetent” based on her performance over the past three-plus years.

Chetock said the most glaring example is Bosel’s handling of public records request from companies wanting electronic copies of recorder documents, which resulted in legal action being taken and Bosel agreeing to pay $3,000 in attorney fees to resolve the first case. The second dispute is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Theresa Bosel

She described it as a “needless lawsuit” caused by Bosel’s delay in seeking a legal opinion from the county prosecutor’s office and then refusing to  comply in a timely manner when another records’ request was filed two years later, resulting in another lawsuit.

“Complying with the Sunshine Law would have been easy. She simply chose to ignore the law,” Chetock said of Bosel. “Because of her inability to do her job she wasted taxpayer dollars. I would not do that.”

“I know that my opponent is using that against me … but I’ve never broken the (Sunshine) law. Not only that, I made sure I knew what I was doing” by consulting several attorneys, Bosel said.

Bosel said she had only been in office a month or so when hit with the first records request for electronic copies of thousands of documents dating back 15 months. She refused at first, believing the company was not entitled to so many records, nor did she believe her office had the capability at the time to make the requested copies without making expensive upgrades. The company that provided and maintains the recorder’s office operating system later made CD copies of the requested documents at no additional costs to the county, and Bosel paid the $3,000 in attorney fees on the recommendation of the prosecutor’s office.

When the second request was later filed, Bosel again balked but later indicated she would comply once the company limited its original request, but by then a lawsuit had been filed with the state supreme court. She also refused to pay the $4,000 in attorney fees incurred by the company

Bosel believes this area of the public records law is open to interpretation, which is why she chose to fight the second request, deeming if “overly broad and ambiguous.” Not only that, she suspects in both instances the companies wanting the documents were selling the information to businesses that used the information to mail deed scam letters to local residents.

“I think it is important to stand up to these crooks who found a loophole in the law and crisscross the  country suing elected officials, expecting them to roll over and pay the hush money,” she said. “It’s not my money. If I lose this election, that’s OK because I want to be able to look people in the eye and say I did right by you.”

Bosel later played a key role in getting the law changed so counties cannot be forced to provide unlimited electronic copies of public records if the documents are to be used for commercial purposes. Bosel denied that changing the law was an admission on her part that she was in the wrong, saying it brought more clarity to the law.

“It’s a gray area …They wanted the taxpayers to pay for this, wanted me to get it to them and then scam the taxpayers,” she said.

Chetock said the law was clear and that Bosel was required to comply with the records’ requests. “I think you have to follow the statutes that are in effect at the time, not the statutes as you think they ought to be,” she said.

Bosel admits it took her a while to get up to speed on how the office worked, and this lack of knowledge resulted in her asking county commissioners for more funding to hire additional staff. She later learned this was unnecessary after the appropriate changes were made.

“We had a terrible, antiquated and outdated way of processing information. My biggest thing was to make us more efficient using best practices” and purchasing new equipment to improve work  flow, she said.

After a slow start, Bosel said she has a record to be proud of. Where it once took up to a year get a recorded document back to the owner, “now it’s immediate. We scan it, record it and hand it right back,” she said. Records are also now available online.

Bosel said she has streamlined operations without adding staff while staying within her budget appropriations, and she also has a $117,000 balance in her equipment fund. A portion of recording fees by law goes into the recorder’s equipment fund and it was increased in 2014, but she pointed out the bulk of the balance has been achieved as the number of deeds being recorded from the gas leasing frenzy of 2010-2013 has ground to a halt.

Bosel said the biggest reason for the equipment balance is because of the savings achieved from canceling some office vendor contracts and renegotiating others, while receiving improved services in most instances. She expects to save even more by switching next year to a new software provider for the office operating system.

After taking office, Bosel learned more than 40 percent of the 1.2 million deeds converted to digital format under an agreement with Chesapeake Exploration were illegible or unusable for legal purposes. She was able to negotiate a new deal, with Chesapeake agreeing to rescan the flawed documents into a usable and readable form at no cost to the county. Chesapeake is to also pay the county $500 a month for updates and corrections, up from $100 per month under the original agreement. The company also provided the recorder’s office with $7,000 in scanning equipment for free.

Chetock said Bosel was remiss for waiting nearly three months to go public with her concerns after learning county residents were receiving official-looking documents implying they needed to get a copy of their deed and offering to provide it for $83. No one needs a copy of the deed because it is on file in the courthouse, and the recorder’s office provides copies for $2 a page and most deeds are two pages long.

The Journal wrote a story about the scam in early January 2016 after interviewing Bosel, and Chetock said she should have gone public in October after the residents first began contacting the recorder’s office with their concerns.

“She waited until she had more than 50 phone calls from residents before she notified (the news media) … She claims she’s protecting the public. How many people were taken advantage of in the meantime?” Chetock said.

Chetock also accused Bosel of frequently being absent from work, based on Bosel’s delayed responses to emails during the electronic records dispute, in which she admitted being out of the office, and on what others have told her. “I will be a full-time recorder. I will not be absent from work,” she said.

Bosel said she was off work recently while helping care for her father, who died from cancer in September, but she still stopped by the office and kept in contact with the staff. She denied ever taking up to a month to respond to an email because she was gone.

“I have absolutely been a full-time recorder, although the last couple of months have been tough … I have to take great offense to Tiffany making that accusation,” she said. “Did Tiffany talk about Tiffany or did she spend the whole time talking about me?”

Bosel said Chetock’s criticism of her demonstrate how little she understands the job. “She’s wrong and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and that’s what scares me if she should get in there,” she said of Chetock. “If Tiffany has to win the election by coming up with absolutely bogus issues about or what I’ve done in this office, I guess winning at all costs is alive and well.”

During a second term, Bosel expects to have all documents digitized and available online, which will allow the large bound volume of records to be stored off site, freeing up office space for computer terminals that be used by the public to search for records and print documents.

Electronic recording will also be available with the new operating system, which “will allow people in this county, or anyone who uses this office, to file from their office or their home … and it doesn’t cost us a dime,” Bosel said. Users, however, will be charged a small fee for the service by the software provider.

Chetock has no specific plans for the office, but, if elected, will visit other recorders to better learn the job. She intends to bring the same efficiency to the recorder’s office she has demonstrated during her time as Madison Township fiscal officer. “For six years I’ve had perfect audits … I would be able to hit the ground running,” she said.

Chetock also pointed out she is backed by past two recorders — Democrat Veronica Wolski and Republican Gary Williams. “I don’t believe there is a Democratic or Republican way to do this job. I believe there is a right way and a wrong way, and that’s why I have been able to gain the support of” Wolski and Williams, she said.