Shut Down On Public Records

Attorney General Greg Abbott is forbidding county clerks from releasing any documents that contain the social security number of a living person.  The intention is to prevent identity theft, but critics say few thefts come from county records. Nevertheless, if you want a public record be prepared for a high security and labor intensive procedure.

In Nacogdoches County sheriff's deputies maintained order among not so happy petroleum land agents. Land men and women are accustomed to staying in the clerk's office from open to close to access land titles.   Now they're lucky to get twenty minutes at a time. Land agent Ernie Grantier from College Station said, " Every lease that's taken, every one that's drilled is based on good title and if you can't have that title you're not going to get any wells drilled."

No one is being denied a title, but obtaining it is no longer an easy task. In Nacogdoches County, you must sign in with a sheriff's deputy, provide a list of requested documents, wait for the clerks to scan for social security numbers, make copies and black the number out before handing it over.

The attorney general's ruling is costing county government. Deputies and clerks are being pulled away from their normal duties. Before clerks were doing their real job. Clerk, Miriam Baublet said, " I'm having no time to do that." The county is also losing revenue from computer services that allow subscribers to access public records electronically. Judge Joe English estimated,  " Somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 to 30,000 a month the county was making on providing those services and that will also cease until we hear otherwise."

County Clerk Carol Wilson is waiting to hear from the state. She wants an easier solution. She handles hundreds of information requests a day.    " We will hopefully have some software that we can implement to redact all the private numbers, all the documents we have on computer." but that won't handle the thirty years of records not on computer. Nor will it ease the patience of the oil and gas industry. Grantier said, "This effects everybody from the guys on the rig to us in the courthouse."

Land agents aren't the only ones effected by the ruling. Attorneys, real estate brokers. Surveyors, tax appraisers, and citizens wanting a variety of public records must follow the procedure.