Register of deeds race takes shape in wake of DeBruhl’s retirement

The replacement of longtime Buncombe County Register of Deeds Otto DeBruhl is shaping up to be a battle between the young and old guards of the Democratic Party.

When DeBruhl announced his retirement on Jan. 31 after 32 years on the job, he expressed his preference for Assistant Register of Deeds Joann Morgan to take the helm, declaring that “there is not a more qualified register of deeds in the State of North Carolina than Joann.” But today, Feb. 3, Drew Reisinger announced his candidacy for the job and Democratic Party Chair Charles Carter sounds like he might follow suit.

The Executive Committee of the Democratic Party — made up of Buncombe precinct chairs and vice chairs, elected officials and state leaders — has the right to vote within 30 days to elect someone to fulfill the remaining two years of DeBruhl’s term. If the party fails to act by March 1, however, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will appoint his replacement.

Morgan has worked with DeBruhl since he first took over the office in 1979, and touts her many years of on-the-job experience in her pitch for the promotion. She also points to her experience as the first female Democrat elected to Asheville City Council in 1975, and subsequent years serving the party as a precinct chair and as president of the Buncombe Democratic Women’s Club.

“The [state] legislature’s coming down with some new requirements for registers. A lot of changes are coming in these next two years, and I have the knowledge about that,” she explains. “I’ve been working here with Otto and attending a lot of training and school. … I’m just looking to continue the wonderful office operation that Otto has started.”

But the 27-year-old Reisinger maintains that the office would benefit from a fresh perspective.

“I think we need to bring the register of deeds office into the 21st century,” he asserts. “Otto and Joann have done an excellent job putting a lot more things online, but we don’t have a user friendly website. And there’s a lot more we can do to save taxpayers money.”

With a background in political organizing and fresh from managing Patsy Keever‘s winning Statehouse campaign, Reisinger says he’s working to build a wave of grassroots support.

“The goal is to talk to folks and let them know that there’s a lot we can do to modernize the register of deeds office,” he explains. “We’ve already got a good campaign of folks around us.”

Meanwhile, Carter says that his run depends on “getting a gauge of the Executive Committee.

“I have been hearing from a lot of people who would like me to run. So if that’s the case, I’ll represent our party and represent our county and put my hat in there and do it.”

A former Buncombe County school teacher and state senator, Carter owns Mountain Java coffeehouse on Merrimon Avenue.

Asked about Carter’s potential candidacy, however, Morgan suggests that it might have more to do with economic troubles than a sense of wanting to serve the public.

“I’m not looking for a job,” she asserts. “I know Charles Carter wants it very bad because of his business and he needs an income. Drew of course is in the same boat.”

It’s a charge that they both deny.

“We’re doing very well with the coffee shop,” declares Carter. “I’m not going to get into the name calling or into trying to bring anybody down. … It has no place in this.”

He goes on to explain that, regardless of who takes the position, he thinks it will be important to maintain party unity going into the 2012 election cycle.

“We were so unified going into this last election,” he says. “And I take a lot of pride in being part of that team.”

It’s a sentiment that Reisinger agrees with, adding that “in 2012, I think this could be a prime target for the Republican Party.

“Dems are going to need the strongest possible ticket. I think my campaign experience would bring a lot to that ticket.”

However, Morgan points out that they’re not the only ones interested in the job who know how to win elections. “Otto’s been elected to eight terms,” she notes. “I worked on all those campaigns.”

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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15 thoughts on “Register of deeds race takes shape in wake of DeBruhl’s retirement

  1. Gordon Smith

    Thanks for covering this, Jake. Otto’s retirement is the end of an era in Buncombe County politics, and his contributions won’t be forgotten.

    I heard recently that Otto gained this position through the same sort of appointment process. He was opposed by the older members of the Party who felt he was a threatening change. The more things change…

    I believe the Register of Deeds can be brought into the 21st century with the right leadership. There are many offices across the state that have very modern web interfaces to allow for ease of use and cost savings.

  2. Aaron Sarver

    Get your popcorn ready. This race will provide a very interesting look at the alliances within the Buncombe County Democratic Party.

  3. IMissOtto

    I work with registers of deeds across the state of North Carolina via their websites for research purposes. I’ve always found Buncombe’s to be among the most user-friendly and functional. Can anyone refer me to one of these websites that is being touted as superior?

  4. wncdemocrat

    Gordon,

    I appreciate your comments but I thought some clarification is in order.

    When Otto was appointed, it was due to the death of the Register of Deeds Diggs. Otto has made it very clear that he would like his Assistant Register of Deeds JoAnn Morgan to take his place. She ready to hit the ground running, and keep the office running as efficiently as it has been under Otto’s leadership.

    If we want to keep the ROD seat for the party in 2012, the office must be run well or we will lose the seat. JoAnn is the only candidate who already has the on the job training and experience necessary to keep it going successfully, therefore ensuring that Democrats are in the best shape to keep the seat.

    Also Gordon, I would also argue that in many ways this office has led the state in terms of innovation into the 21st century. The office has shifted from a hand indexing system to a fully modern computerized system with an instant uplink to the vital records department in Raleigh. Also the ROD office has led the way in digitizing documents, with over 3 million now available online to the public through the Buncombe County website. This would not have happened without JoAnn’s hard work.

    Finally, some have talked about the need to make official documents accessible online through the ROD website. Unfortunately, there is no statute which would allow the office to do this, which would be needed before any move could be made. Also the office would need to purchase additional security software and computer systems to handle these forms of requests. In a time where state and county budgets are stretched thin and additional cuts are being made to the ROD office, where is the money for that supposed to come from? JoAnn has spearheaded the office making sure that it has always turned a profit.

    I would encourage folks to support JoAnn Morgan to serve out the remainder of Otto DeBruhl’s term.

  5. J

    I wish Gordon would explain, with specificity, what it means to be brought into the 21st Century, and why the current structure isn’t in the 21st century.

    It’s also worth noting that Drew helped Gordon on his 2009 campaign, which Gordon failed to mention.

    JoAnn seems to have great experience which would be a boon to all involved. Politics aside, this is an important office which carries out pivotal duties to people’s lives. I honestly don’t understand why you wouldn’t go with the experience.

  6. I think Otto and JoAnn have a great job for many years and need to be commended for their efforts. But, we are in a NEW world of communication, and we will need new thinking and understanding to move forward. After looking at Jonhston County’s website and using it, then trying to use Buncombe County’s, it became clear to me that we need to move forward with new thinking. I have seen how Drew makes things work and I feel he understands how BC can move into the new communication world.

  7. bulldogpride

    The Register of Deeds office is currently moving into it’s new location while dealing with Mr. DeBruhl’s retirement. Mrs. Morgan is working to keep this office running smoothly during this time. Already our county has lost a leader, these people lost their boss, but now they are having to worry about their jobs if someone new takes over as Mr. DeBruhl’s replacement other than Mrs. Morgan. Either gentlemen who plans to run (because we all no that Mr. Carter will) would fill the front office with their own people. The problem? Not only would you lose Mrs. Morgan’s experience but you would also lose everyone from the front office who is also trained for their jobs. The Register’s office is not something you walk into knowing everything on day one. No job is. I say to both these gentleman-if you are interested in the office-run in 2012. Let the people who know how to run the office fill the rest of Mr. DeBruhl’s term.

  8. T100C-1970

    Why in the WORLD is the Registrar of Deeds a PARTISAN office? (Probably I don’t want to know :-( )

  9. I would guess that the reason the post is partisan is very much the same reason that NC sheriff’s offices are partisan: the theory is that direct election makes such positions of trust more accountable to the people. This is coupled with the fact that the state has long been organized to benefit the two-party system. (It is very difficult for third parties to get on the ballot).

    While Democrats were effectively in charge of many state offices, the GOP preferred to limit competitors as the anointed opposition party. (Later the Republican Southern Strategy split off racist Dems and engendered the rise of the GOP across the South.)

    As we see repeatedly in purportedly “nonpartisan” elections, including judgeships and City Council races, that’s merely a charade. And parenthetically, knowing this will stir a long-simmering pot, when Asheville’s City Council attempted to make local elections more open and honest by making them de jure partisan, and making it at least possible for third parties and independents to get on the November ballot, a supposedly populist uprising erupted and the people voted to continue the current system.

    As it works now, the Democratic/Independent majority of Asheville voters pretty much ensures that few Republicans make it through City primary elections – but also makes it practically impossible for third party candidates to make the cut.

  10. Oh, and on a different note: as a reporter I have found other County registrar Web sites to be far more user friendly than Buncombe’s.

  11. S

    WNCDemocrat has said it best. The democrat party should respect the wishes of one of the most honored men in North Carolina and give him this final say. I think that a man who has been register of deeds for over 30 years would know who can fill that position better then any political party. It doesn’t exactly show unity within the democrat party when the chairman decides to run for a position against the wishes of the most admired democrats in the county. Also, no disrespect to others, but I am familiar with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds working in real estate and other matters and they are just as up to date if not more update then any other register of deeds in North Carolina.

  12. Bill Christy

    I am a practicing attorney in Buncombe County. Under the leadership of Otto and Joanne Morgan this office has been a leader in making public records accessible to all citizens. This office is one of the best run Registrys in this part of the state, if not the entire state. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful to all citizens, and is very efficient at their tasks. I would respectfully disagree with anyone who characterizes the current running of the Register of Deeds as antiquated; this is an office that all citizens of Buncombe County can and should be proud of.

    With the office moving, and with a short time period of the unexpired term, the only logical choice is to stick with known leadership, and then, at the proper time (in 2012), let the political process work in an open manner. I support Joanne Morgan and urge others to do the same.

  13. Ronnie Swafford

    The immediate thing that has to be done is a meeting of the executive comittee of Buncombe county has to be called to vote. Otherwise, the position will be appointed by the county commissioners. Charles Carter should have scheduled that meeting as soon as Otto announced his retirement.What are you waiting for, Charles? Why have we been forced to resort to getting petitions signed by 40% of the executive commitee to force you to call a meeting? Please explain your motives in a public forum.

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