Paula Sollami Covello
Mercer County Clerk
(Trenton, NJ) Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello announced today a major accomplishment in her first term with the settlement of a 10-year-old lawsuit against the Mercer County Clerk and Board of Chosen Freeholders (Land Title Association versus Catherine DiCostanzo, et al). The suit stems from a lengthy backlog in the recording of deeds, mortgages, and other property transfers in the Mercer County Clerk’s Office over ten years ago. The case also covered the precarious condition of a large number of County deed and mortgage record books.
New Jersey Land Title Association Executive Director Edward Eastman, Jr. issued in a statement, “The New Jersey Land Title Association appreciates the important work undertaken by Mercer County Clerk, Paula Sollami Covello, to permanently preserve historic land records entrusted to her office, providing a solid base of land title records upon which future generations can confidently rely. With the support of the Mercer County Freeholders, County Clerk Sollami Covello has applied modern science to her office’s system of record retention and storage that preserves the past and protects the future. We applaud the Clerk and the County’s effort.”
In 2005, when running for Mercer County Clerk, Sollami Covello pledged to prioritize the tasks needed to address the Clerk’s office deficiencies in order to have the case settled. Within ten weeks of her taking office, the Mercer County Clerk’s Office recording backlog was eliminated so that recording of public documents in the County Clerk’s Office could be done instantly.
“Land title professionals, attorneys and their clients need to have trust that important documents are recorded, stored, and indexed efficiently and without delay. Paula Sollami Covello and the County Clerk’s staff have earned and maintained that trust by consistently eliminating backlogs and modernizing their systems,” said Richard Eland, President of the NJ Land Title Association and owner of the Title Village Title Agency in Princeton.
Concurrently, County Clerk Sollami Covello began the repair of the 511 land record books dating back to 1838 that were falling apart and in disrepair. The massive project, which involved scanning each historically sensitive page of the 511 books onto microfilm, was completed this year with the assistance of State preservationists at the State Division of Archives and Records Management and PMI, leading document specialists. Sollami Covello also implemented many of the recommendations of the Patriot Consulting Group, a northeast municipal consulting group, on how to streamline and improve work functions in the County Clerk’s Office.
The County Board of Chosen Freeholders was also named in the lawsuit against the Office of the County Clerk (and the prior Clerk, Catherine DiCostanzo), as they are responsible for budget and funding for the Office of the County Clerk.
“I am so pleased all of our hard work to make this office current in recording, while modernizing the archives has brought a conclusion to this long-term litigation,” said Clerk Sollami Covello. “The dismissal of this 1998 case is like the removal of an albatross from around the collective necks of my office, the County Freeholders, and our counsel, as well as the taxpayers. Mercer County residents and businesses that use this office have a right to expect the best possible services for their tax dollars. By improving this office’s land records and ending this case, we’ve giving taxpayers that expected level of service. Now, I can focus on improving other office services,” she said.
“I ran for County Clerk to improve this office’s services by bringing it into the Twenty-First century, and we have accomplished that. I also promised the Mercer County Freeholders I would eliminate wasteful spending and not burden them with additional monies to upgrade this office. Without their consistent support, these accomplishments could not have been possible,” said Sollami Covello.
Sollami Covello noted these accomplishments were made without new costs to the County taxpayers or additional overtime costs. “My staff did the work during normal business hours and the existing overtime allocation has actually gone down in recent years. We utilized existing funds in the County Clerk’s budget and the County’s regular technology budget to complete these projects,” added Sollami Covello. “It simply required leadership and a solid plan on my part. Of course, I would not be reporting this good news without acknowledging the hard work of my staff. To them I express my heartfelt appreciation and sincere thanks,” she noted.
October 1998 – Complaint filed against the Mercer County Clerk and Board of Chosen Freeholders by the NJ Land Title Association over the mismanagement and operations of the Clerk’s Office. The case, Land Title Association versus Catherine DiCostanzo, centered on a lengthy backlog in the recording of deeds, mortgages, and other property transfers in the Mercer County Clerk’s Office. The case also involved a large number of deed and mortgage record books, and Federal Tax Lien index that were in disrepair in the County Clerk’s Property Information Search Room.
August 19, 2005 – Backlog remains lengthy. Land Title Association requests master overseer of Clerk’s Office from Court to address backlog, in addition to having the prior Clerk meet requirements to index, image documents, and repair older books.
January 1, 2006 - Clerk Paula Sollami Covello takes office after pledging during her campaign, and upon taking office, to work to have the case dismissed and backlogs eliminated.
April 13, 2006 - Within ten weeks of her taking office, the office recording backlog was eliminated so that recording of public documents could be done instantly in the County Clerk’s Office. There has been no recording backlog since.
December 6, 2006 – Inventory completed of records in archives. Discovered historical documents dating back to 1800s.
February, 2007 – Initiated E-Filing Stage I with instructional seminar for members of the real estate, title industry and public.
October 24, 2007 – Launched the second phase of E-Filing/Recording.
December, 2007 – Completed scanning Federal Tax Lien index.
April 2006 – January 2009 – The Mercer County Clerk’s office worked diligently to restore public land records, creating a sequential order electronic index, recreated the Federal Tax Lien Index, a Land Records Management System, and worked cooperatively with the NJ Division of Archives and Records Management (DARM). Concurrently, the Clerk’s office began the repair of the 511 land record books that were falling apart and in disrepair, dating back as far as 1838. The project, which involved scanning each historically sensitive page of the books onto microfilm, was completed this year with the assistance of State DARM and PMI, leading document preservationists and specialists.
May 2009 – Microfilming of land title record books completed.
June, 2009 – Replaced map-scanning machine in order to keep maps current in-house
June 9, 2009 – Launched MCPRESS, online internet search system of all land records dating back to 1997.
July 15, 2009 - Case settled against the Mercer County Clerk and Board of Chosen Freeholders.
September 2, 2009 – Letter presented to Freeholders advising of settlement of dismissal.