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Just What Goes On in the Easton Town Clerk's Office?

Patch sits down with Derek Buckley and gets a tour of the town clerk's office.

Easton became its own town in 1845, when it spun off from Weston. In the ensuing 166 years, naturally — though Easton’s still a relatively quiet town — a whole hell of a lot has happened.

Each year, people get married, people get dogs, properties change hands, people are buried, town government bodies meet — minutes are recorded.

And records of it all are stored at the .

Last week, town clerk Derek Buckley and assistant town clerk Joan Kirk, held an open house to show Eastonites the goings-on in their office.

For almost a decade, Derek Buckley has held his position. Buckley’s called the town his home for close to 40 years.

Prior to getting elected to the office and beginning in January 2002, Buckley worked in technology. He’s now working to convert the town’s paper records to digital records, a process which is slow and tedious.

One of Buckley’s predecessors, Carl Mlinar, didn’t have that luxury. Prior to Buckley’s arrival, all records were on paper, a challenge that didn’t phase Mlinar.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Buckley said. “He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a human computer.”

Once Buckley started his job, he quickly realized how “complicated” the clerk’s office is.

“I decided to clean this place up,” Buckley said, adding he wrote software to help digitize the town’s records and automate the office. This has saved the town money, Buckley said. The room where records are stored was full when he started. Now, there’s lots of space because of the digitizing process, which means more space doesn’t have to be devoted to storing all of the records.

But digitizing records is a grueling process, Buckley explained. Currently, Easton’s land records from 1979 to present day are digitized, and Buckley’s most immediate goal is to get everything back to 1971 finished, as a “standard title search, if selling [a house], goes back 40 years.”

Buckley estimated it would take about three months to digitize the records back to 1971.

“I’ve got to fit it in with everything else going on,” he said. “My hope is we’ll get systems in here so people will stop looking at paper over time.”

When you start tracing records further back, Buckley said, it becomes difficult to digitize them because different town clerks hand-recorded things differently. For example, one might have written “mortgage,” another “mtg.” and yet another “mortg.” Another example is that back in the day, clerks sought to conserve paper, so sometimes there are more than one record on each page. If a record didn’t fit on one page and there was some space on a page a few pages previous, the clerk would continue that record there.

Another difficulty?

“It’s hard enough to read your own handwriting,” Buckley said.

In any case, Buckley’s goal is to get all the records online. That way, it’s easier for Eastonites to find what they’re looking for. Rather than thumbing through a large book, residents can simply type in the last name or the property address they’re looking for on the software Buckley created.

And Buckley’s software seems to be favorably received. Raymond Duplessie called it  “so simple it’s scary.” Scott Becker said the system “is the easiest, clearest and best all around record base I have utilized in the 50 or so towns I have covered as an appraiser for the last 21 years.”

There's also a prototype of a low vision computer system in the clerk's office. The particular machine presents documents in much higher resolution than a normal computer, making it much easier on the eyes. Buckley said the goal is to partner with the , which his wife Valerie directs, and have seven low vision machines at each facility, so records can be accessed from both locations. These machines are funded through grants, at no cost to the taxpayers.

When buying or selling a house, the parties involved check whether there’s any sort of lien on the house in question, Buckley said.

“Divorce, lawsuits — you name it,” Buckley said. “There’s a number of ways people can put a lien on your property.”

Buckley said during divorces, ownership of the house always comes under the microscope.

“People used to fight for who gets the house,” Buckley said with a laugh. “Now, people fight over who doesn’t get it, since the market’s so bad.”

On cemeteries           

During his tenure, the town clerk’s office had to figure out who owned four run-down cemeteries in town. Buckley said often, ownership of cemeteries is passed on through wills for generations. But ultimately, you reach the generation where mention of that cemetery disappears.

“Cemeteries are the ultimate Ponzi scheme,” Buckley said, smiling. Someone buys the land, then makes money selling the graves. But once the graves are all sold, there’s no more source of revenue.

Running a cemetery is financially “amazing in the short run, but after about 20 years you have to disappear,” he said laughing.

Buckley said legislation has since passed that if a town puts a public notice for someone to claim ownership of a cemetery in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks and no one comes forward, the town can take ownership of the cemetery. Rather than pay taxes on the land and upkeep, some families move away.

“Once it becomes a cemetery, it can only be a cemetery,” Buckley said.

Buckley said he welcomes Eastonites’ ideas and comments on how is office operates or how it could potentially be improved.

“To the extent I can, I’m happy to help,” he said.

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