The pandemic made it hard for everyone to conduct business as usual, but last year’s shutdown gave Monroe County Clerk Donnie Evans, Chief Deputy Jeremy Meadows and staff quiet time in the office to think about the document transactions that don’t need to be handled face-to-face. They then got to work tailoring an internet-based system to make that happen.
Utilizing his degree in computer science, Meadows began making the county website more user-friendly, convenient and informative. The site monroecounty.gov provides a way to sign up to receive texts of real-time alerts, up-to-date news, upcoming events and to track important dates.
Meadows also created a handy app to provide just about everything a county resident needs to stay informed.
The most recent project undertaken by the clerk’s office was to utilize a $5,000 grant from the West Virginia Records Management and Preservation Board and a $5,000 match from the Monroe County Commission to scan and index deeds dating back to the 1920s.
“This means researchers can view and print these documents back to the 1920s without having to handle the original books and pages,” Evans explained. “This will help preserve the original deed.”
Another $5,000 grant was approved by the Records Management and Preservation Board for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Scanning and indexing documents offered two things, Evans said “It provided a digital book of the recorded document that we didn’t have before,” and people now have the ability to look up preserved documents online.
Meadows reiterated that deeds dating back to the 1920s have been scanned as well as indexed, and explained that deeds from 1799 have been scanned.
Power of attorneys and other documents as early as the 1950s have been scanned while deeds of trust, releases, assignments, fiduciaries, etc. recorded up until July 1, 1999, are available online. Steps needed to search for scanned and indexed documents can be found on the Monroe County website. A visit to the record room will still need to happen in order to access the hardback indexes of documents prior to July 1, 1999.
Although the Monroe County Courthouse is currently open to serve the community, saving a trip to the courthouse is an added convenience for many with work hours that prevent them from making it to Union before closing time.
“A person now has the ability to look up online and print any document [currently available on the website],” Evans said. “We have seen a decrease in the record room and think that is a result of COVID, and it does save people a trip” to the courthouse.
The clerk’s office staff tackled the task of virtual documentation; the Records Management and Preservation funding is used toward labor and overtime necessary to scan and index documents.
Joe Geiger, director of the West Virginia Archives and History, has also been valuable in completing the project.
“Joe Geiger has been a tremendous help,” Evans said. “He’s been super good to us.”
Already boasting a website that provided the most up-to-date election information unmatched by surrounding counties, Meadows “brought the county to the head of the pack,” with the scanning project, app and other features offered through the website. Other county clerk’s offices have reached out to Meadows and Evans for advice on how to set up similar sites.
Evans explained “The biggest thing about the new website is that Jeremy can go into it and change information, especially with COVID updates” versus the former company that maintained the website.
Monroe is also the first county to offer the ability to create a picture voter identification card.
Meadows said future legislation may be set to require a photo voter ID card “down the road, we thought we would get ahead of that.”
Another way the clerk’s office got ahead of the game was when “Jeremy came up with a budget and payroll system that went live on [a] Thursday,” Evans said.
Later that same day, a letter was received from the previous service provider stating it was going out of business.
Considering the trouble in receiving adequate customer support, “We saw the writing on the wall,” Evans said. Meadows’ system also saves the county money, the clerk noted.
Some of the services offered on the newly improved monroecounty.gov are downloadable PDFs to request birth certificates, death certificates, election and candidate forms, and others. Many of these forms can be completed on a computer before printing. Probate-related documents are available on the site with information explaining the process and a link to make an appointment.
Requests can be made to have a matter put on the agenda for an upcoming county commission meeting. Minutes of past county commission meetings are also posted online.
Important county governmental meeting dates, times and locations can be found on the site.
Attorneys can e-file court documents, have them reviewed by an outside vendor, pay associated fees and submitted to the courthouse electronically without having to leave their offices.
Details on various departments that keep the county operational are available on the site, as are emergency alerts.
The history of Monroe County is told on the website along with photos of historic locations, scenic views and community festivals. Nearly everything a MOCO resident or visitor needs to know can be found at monroecounty.gov.
In an effort to provide more “transparency, we worked really hard to get where we are,” Evans said.
During the beginning of the pandemic, Evans visited the homes of some Monroe County residents in need of courthouse services, much like an old time “country doctor.”
And not ready to rest on their laurels, the staff of the clerk’s office haven’t finished finding ways to support the community.
Over the course of a year, “Donnie has really thought about how best to serve the public,” Meadows said.
In 2020 and into 2021, “We learned how much we could do,” Evans noted.