CARRBORO-In what might be a first for Orange County, a crowd of nearly fifty turned out to hear from three candidates vying for the job of Register of Deeds.
The usually low-key race is garnering attention as former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton has stated that if elected, he’ll issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of state law. He said North Carolina’s Amendment One, which bans same sex marriage, violates the U.S. Constitution.
“I think it is clear it’s unconstitutional, and the oath of office requires that we enforce first and foremost the United States Constitution and that’s what I plan to do,” said Chilton, speaking Thursday at a forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.
But the incumbent, Deborah Brooks, said it’s not that easy.
“Same sex marriage is illegal in the state of North Carolina, and we cannot issue a marriage license,” said Brooks. “If they change that statute, then we’ll go along with that. We do not discriminate.”
The other challenger in the race is Sara Stephens. She sided with Brooks on the question of same sex marriage licenses.
“My personal beliefs cannot and will not interfere with my professional obligations,” said Stephens. “It is my intention to have a friendly and welcoming office for everyone that enters the Orange County Register of Deeds Office, but I will not go against the oath.”
Chilton stressed he’s not just running to take a stand against Amendment One. He’s also a real estate lawyer with a long interest in Orange County land use history. He said he’d like to see the county offer online filing for documents.
“We’re part-way into implementing it now and I believe it’s very important to finish it,” said Chilton. “Every real estate closing that happens in Chapel Hill and Carrboro results in a 20 mile round-trip that some paralegal has to do to drive it up to the office. That makes no sense to me.”
Brooks has held the position as Register for the past four years, and worked in the Deeds office for nearly forty years. She says the office has made progress toward providing more online services, including scanning more than 900,000 records that will be available to the public by May. In addition, she says she hopes to move away from a cash-only system.
“Everybody has to pay cash that comes into our office,” said Brooks. ”We’re getting ready to implement credit cards so you can come in and use your credit card.”
Stephens worked in the Register of Deeds office for five years before moving to the private sector. She said her priority will be providing good customer service to all residents of Orange County.
“A little over 3,500 births took place at UNC Hospitals, around half of those children born were Latino. Right now the office does not employ a Spanish-speaking person, or have Spanish on the website,” said Stephens. “That does not accurately reflect our community.”
All three candidates are Democrats and there is no Republican challenger, which means the race will be decided in the May 6 primary. Republican voters can participate in the primary if they change their registration to “unaffiliated” by contacting the local Board of Elections by April 10.
Thursday’s forum, hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women, also featured candidates running for the Board of County Commissioners. WCHL will bring you more from that forum early next week.