Fate of Allegheny County real estate office uncertain as manager leaves for Peduto staff
By Aaron Aupperlee
Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Not even Allegheny County Real Estate Manager Valerie McDonald Roberts knows what will happen to her job when she leaves to join Mayor-elect Bill Peduto's administration this month.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Roberts said. “I'd rather leave it in the hands of the county manager and the county executive.”
County administrators, including Manager William McKain, would not elaborate on what might happen to her position or the department. McKain is evaluating the department and will make decisions after his review, county spokeswoman Amie Downs wrote in an email.
Peduto tapped Roberts, 58, of Churchill, a stalwart of city and county politics, to serve as his chief urban affairs officer. She will stay at the county until mid-January, Downs wrote.
McKain could recommend county Executive Rich Fitzgerald appoint a successor, essentially keeping the position and department unchanged. The department could merge into an office such as the Office of Property Assessments, or the county manager or court system could take over its responsibilities.
“I don't know that there's any urgent need to do anything with it right now,” said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Castle Shannon policy group. “If she's doing a job that's fairly unique and she's efficient, you may not want to change it. But it should be looked at.”
The Department of Real Estate records deeds, mortgages and property transfers. It is a storehouse of maps and property records available to the public, and it swears in notaries. The department has a $2.95 million budget for 2014, making it one of the county's smallest.
Roberts' county salary is $100,312. She oversees a department of 54 employees. Her post in Peduto's administration will pay $102,500.
Former county Executive Jim Roddey, a Republican, said it might be time to scrap the Department of Real Estate as a stand-alone office. He was not sure where he would shift the department's responsibilities but mentioned the county manager's office, the courts or the Office of Property Assessments. Roberts' position should be eliminated, he said.
“And if they don't, it's probably a signal that they are returning a political favor,” Roddey said.
Roberts was hesitant to comment on the future of the office, saying, “This office is part of county government. You cannot do away with the recording office.”
The department survived the county's row office consolidation with few changes. In 2005, Allegheny County voters narrowly approved a referendum to consolidate and eliminate some of the county's elected row offices. The referendum merged the clerk of courts, register of wills, prothonotary and two jury commissioners under an appointed director of court records. The elected coroner became an appointed medical examiner. The elected recorder of deeds became an appointed real estate manager.
Former county Executive Dan Onorato, a Democrat responsible for the consolidation, did not return calls seeking comment.
Roberts was elected in 2001 to be the recorder of deeds and appointed real estate manager after the consolidation. A public critic of the consolidation, she said the change resulted in some positive outcomes. The Department of Real Estate works more closely and more effectively with the rest of the county, she said. Communication is more seamless.
“It takes away that barrier, that perception type of barrier, that it is the rows and them,” Roberts said of the consolidation. “Now we're all part of the same team.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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