Ballot features two uncontested races

Posted 10/21/20

Two incumbent Chatham County officials, Register of Deeds Lunday A. Riggsbee and Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor J. Lynn Mann, are running uncontested in this year’s …

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Ballot features two uncontested races

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Two incumbent Chatham County officials, Register of Deeds Lunday A. Riggsbee and Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor J. Lynn Mann, are running uncontested in this year’s elections.

Here’s what you need to know about their accomplishments and aspirations:

Register of Deeds

The Honorable Lunday A. Riggsbee knows all about record keeping and organization, not only from her six years of experience as register of deeds, but also the 30 years she spent in private practice as a lawyer.

“I started practicing law in ’84,” she said. “I opened my own practice in ’86. My practice ran the gamut when I first started, but the last 10 to 15 years it was getting to be really strongly about real estate. So, I came into the position with a strong background from the other side of the counter.”

Now, as register of deeds, Riggsbee oversees vital record keeping for the county’s citizens. Documents include marriage licenses, birth certificates and real estate records. The responsibility is a full-time occupation. Riggsbee, therefore, gave up her practice to fulfill her current responsibility.

During her tenure, which began with her appointment in 2014, Riggsbee has instituted a number of innovations to the department’s operations.

“Since I’ve been in office,” Riggsbee said, “we’ve added some services. We’ve added e-recording, which is recording documents electronically. And we’ve added a system which is allowing our county to search for (birth) certificates for people who come in here statewide if they were born after 1971 — used to be you had to go to the county where you were born to get it.”

E-recording especially, which launched in 2015, has been instrumental in allowing the office to function through the coronavirus pandemic. Since March, it has accounted for 68.8% of incoming records and the fees for electronically filed documents have contributed 89% of the office’s total revenue.

“I thought that after a month or two with COVID it would slow down,” Riggsbee said. “But it has absolutely not slowed down at all.”

On the contrary, activity in her office has escalated in recent months. Early on, few marriage license requests came through the office, but soon the demand skyrocketed.

“People were waiting to see thinking that this was going be over in a few months,” Riggsbee said. “And I think part of what’s happened, the reason we’re getting a lot more marriage licenses than normal, is because people have decided that this is going to be going for a while, and if they want to get married, they just need to figure out how to do it, sort of in the new normal.”

In September, the office of the register of deeds processed 70 marriage licenses.

“In the six years or so since I’ve been register of deeds,” Riggsbee said, “we’ve occasionally had a month with 40 — usually it’s 20.”

Real estate records, too, have not decreased during the pandemic as Riggsbee expected.

“We’re slammed with real estate recordings,” she said, “and the other things we do like processing other vital records.”

In her next term, Riggsbee plans to continue expansion of the office’s services. Chatham County’s growth, particularly in Pittsboro with the Chatham Park development project, portend a rush of documentation for the register of deeds to process.

“Eventually, I’m going to have to figure out, if Chatham County continues at this rate of growth, how to keep up with demand,” she said.

An influx of real estate records from new development around the county is already taxing the department. But soon the office of the register of deeds must begin processing in earnest records it has not seen in 30 years — new birth certificates.

“Now with Chatham Hospital there, we’re going to be adding baby’s records to our vitals,” Riggsbee said.

Moving forward, then, efficiency is Riggsbee’s number one objective.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to continue into the future with as few growing pains as possible,” she said. “So, I guess my goal is just figuring out how I’m going to continue to serve the community in the most quick, effective way both during and after the pandemic, whenever we get to whatever our new normal is going to be.”

Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor

According to J. Lynn Mann, Chatham County’s Soil and Water Conservation district supervisor, his organization’s objective is “to ensure the wise use of our natural resources which are soil, water, air, plants and animals.”

More specifically, Soil and Water “helps animal, livestock and crop farmers with technical and educational services to help protect the land and the waters of the state of North Carolina,” he said.

The mission is dear to Mann. He has devoted his entire life to protecting land and farmer, as a private citizen and a government official.

“I’m a lifetime farmer,” he said. “I farmed my whole life; my ancestors before me farmed. So, you know, we have a natural caring for the land and animals. I own a century farm — the farm has been in the family here for over 100 years.”

For 19 years, Mann has served on Chatham County’s five-person district board of Soil and Water – in the last 16 years as its chairperson.

Despite what the name might suggest, Soil and Water does not address the water contamination and drinking supply issues that have plagued Chatham County in recent times. Its responsibilities deal mostly with farmer assistance.

“Our biggest thing is rural and agricultural areas, working with the farmers as far as livestock – keeping livestock out of streams,” Mann said. “So, we put in areas where livestock can cross over a stream without getting into the water. And in residential areas like Siler City, we’ve done some natural gardens to help control the runoff water.”

Soil and Water’s work has become more important since the coronavirus pandemic began. Many farmers have come under hard times. But Mann and the board have pivoted keep the department’s vital services available when they are most needed.

“The pandemic has stressed a lot of agriculture, a lot of farms out there,” he said. “But as far as us being able to continue to handle our work, I think we’ve pretty much stayed current with that.”

As long as the pandemic persists, Mann’s goals will remain short-term: helping Chatham County farmers to survive, one day at a time.

“We want to continue to help the rural communities and agricultural communities in any way that we can through this, whether it be education or technical services,” he said. “We’ll keeping trying to educate the farmers on different practices, make all our best management practices available be it crop farming, livestock exclusion, and just to educate new people coming into the area that want to have their own little farms and stuff. We’ll give them an idea of what best practices they can use to protect the land and the soil and water and to keep farming alive.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com.

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