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Government, Politics & Issues

City Voters Have Choice Of Past Or Present Recorder Of Deeds

Florida_Carpenter.jpeg

Two candidates are vying for the office of St. Louis recorder of deeds even though many are wondering why it’s an elected office at all.

The recorder of deeds is in charge of recording all property transactions and issuing marriage licenses as well as birth and death records.

This race is an odd one -- both candidates have been the recorder this year.

Jennifer Florida, the current recorder, assumed the position after the former recorder, Sharon Carpenter, stepped down in July because of violating the state’s nepotism law.

Carpenter had hired her great nephew to do office work for several summers for a total of $12,000.

"I hired him. I did it," Carpenter has admitted. "I believed I was acting within the law. But with a misunderstanding of the law, it doesn't make a difference."

The penalty for nepotism is forfeiting the office. So Carpenter did, before an investigation by the circuit attorney took place. She is now running to reclaim her seat.

Florida was appointed to the seat by Mayor Francis Slay, a longtime ally of both women. Florida had previously served as the 15th Ward alderwoman for 13 years.

“The old, historic, magnificent records are in shambles,” Florida said. “I’ve called in experts from the Missouri State Archives to look at the condition of how we’re storing these records.”

In the few months, Florida has held the office, she said she has worked to make certain records searchable.

“This office hasn’t had the kind of attention that it needed from the recorder. I’m an eight to five-er,” Florida said, in what may be an oblique reference to allegations that Carpenter was frequently absent from the office.

Florida said she found an office in disarray. She has expressed concern over a fund that paid for employees’ trips to conferences at expensive locations, and she has called for an audit over how salaries are handled. Gov. Jay Nixon has also ordered a state audit of the office.

For her part, Carpenter acknowledges wrongdoing on nepotism but has disputed the other allegations.

On why she should be elected again to the office she held for more than three decades, Carpenter says her fascination with history and historical documents sets her apart from her opponent.

"There are some things I've just begun because the technology just got here," Carpenter, a former history teacher, said.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway delivered a scathing audit to St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio
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Although the recorder of deeds office is low key, it did make headlines in July when Carpenter signed four marriage licenses for same-sex couples in a direct challenge to Missouri’s ban. She said it was one of the things she is most proud of about her tenure.

Florida also supports same-sex marriage and has now replaced Carpenter as the defendant in the court fight.

Turnout is expected to be low in the November election. And Florida has an extreme fundraising advantage in the race. As of Oct. 15, she had $34,000 to spend in the race. Shortly after that filing deadline, Florida received an additional $25,000 from wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield.

As of mid-October, Carpenter only had $4,000.

But this isn’t to say Carpenter is out of the running. Considering she occupied the office for 34 years, she will have name recognition in the city. And when voters go to the ballot, Carpenter will be the one with the letter “D” next to her name.

Florida is running as an independent because the seat was vacated after the filing deadline. She says she is still a Democrat, though.

In the meantime, three aldermen have sponsored a bill to make the recorder’s position a non-elected position. Instead, they propose that the mayor should appoint the recorder.

The bill has yet to be debated by the board of aldermen, where some are likely to be skeptical of giving the mayor’s office more power. If  the measure were to be approved by the board, the charter amendment would then go to voters in April. If passed by voters, the mayor’s office wouldn’t be able to appoint a replacement recorder until 2019 at the earliest.

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