Saturday Sept. 1, 2012

Berkshire County has three registers of deeds, and all three offices fly under the radar until there is a vacancy and an election ensues. Middle Berkshire register of deeds Andrea Nuciforo Jr. is running for Congress for the newly redesigned 1st District and three candidates, Patsy Harris, Jody Phillips and Scott Pignatelli, are running to succeed him as register in Thursday's Democratic primary.

The specific candidates aside, certain conclusions can be reached about the office as the campaign winds down. The register, who must have a particular skill set but doesn't establish political policies, should be appointed, not elected. None of the candidates are espousing Democratic Party policies, nor should they, and the only reason the election will be determined in the party primary is because no Republicans emerged to force a November general election.

Considering that the newly constituted 1st Congressional District will include all of Berkshire County as well as communities stretching well into central Massachusetts, it is difficult to defend having three registers of deeds in Berkshire County alone. One register overseeing a Pittsfield registry and branch offices in North Adams and Great Barrington is far more economical and is doable now because of computerized record-keeping. These are fights for another political day, however.

All three Middle Berkshire District candidates have worked hard to make their case for election. We don't buy the scuttlebutt that Lenox's Scott Pignatelli wants to use the job as a political stepping stone. He has argued that the job needs an experienced manager and as sole owner for the past 15 years of his family's business, he has that experience. As a 12-year-member of the Lenox Board of Assessors he has addressed issues similar to those that would confront a register and his board membership with UNICO, for which he has served as president, attests to his interest in community service. That said, Mr. Pignatelli doesn't possess the hands-on experience his rivals have in record-keeping and dealing with attorneys and agencies. There have been staffing cutbacks in the department, and there could be more, which would require a register who is able to step in and do this important work to keep the office humming.

Jody Phillips gained experience relevant to the register's duties during her 10 years as Pittsfield City Clerk. Along with keeping and archiving records, she dealt with the public, attorneys and other officials and agencies and also served as manager of the office. There would not be as substantial a learning curve for her, and those who dealt with her as city clerk speak well of her demeanor and capabilities.

Patsy Harris has the decided advantage of 11 years experience working in the registry, which followed 17 years of relevant experience as a paralegal and a title examiner. While Wednesday's WBEC debate featured discussion of the pecking order in the deeds office, Harris' years as second assistant where she gained intimate knowledge of the office amply qualify her for the register position. In her editorial board meeting with The Eagle, Ms. Harris effectively articulated the importance of the office in protecting the interests of district home-owners and provided telling anecdotes about the pitfalls the registry can help home-owners avoid. Her enthusiasm about the registry's role as a keeper of centuries of historic documents, which she wants to preserve through her knowledge of the office's computer system, was refreshing. It is significant that she has been endorsed by the Berkshire Association for Paralegals and Legal Secretaries and by 59 lawyers who praised her proven expertise and experience in handling land records.

Patsy Harris' demonstrated competence working as a register and her obvious love of a job that many might find dull make her The Eagle's choice for election as Middle Berkshire register of deeds.