In Maryland the Register of Will is an elected office with candidates declaring political affiliation. There are around 18 such Registers, one for each county I think. The current Montgomery County Register of Wills has been the incumbent since he first ran to replace his mentor in the 1990's. Despite the fact that this office provides an important public service there is seldom much coverage of the issues or performance.
Below, you can find the sum total of relevant links easily available on the web.
Needless to say they lack sufficient depth for one to evaluate the candidates policies. So I decided to get enough information upon which to make an informed decision by asking the candidates themselves. What follow is the sum total of what I have received...
My Initial Attempt to get the conversation started:
Dear Candidate Koutsoutis,
As a Montgomery County Maryland citizen who takes the civic duty of voting quite seriously I endeavor to make informed choices for who I will vote. To my thinking the Register of wills is not different from other elected offices yet I find myself searching in vain for coverage. In order to promote a robust discussion of the relevant issues at hand, I ask you to respond to the top three issues indicated by incumbant Register of Wills Joseph M. Griffin at Gazette.Net (In a similar fashion, I will be asking incumbant Griffin to respond to the issues you raise in the Gazette).
1.) Increased Probate Mediation
As you know the case load for the staff of the Register of Wills is quite heavy, a burden made heavier by the number of estates for which administrative objections have been raised. To reduce this burden incumbant Griffin has promoted a probate mediation program. Can you speak to the relative strengths and weaknesses of this program and the advisability of expanding such mediation services?
2.) Maximize use of technology to provide information and assistance
During his terms as Montgomery County Register of Wills, incumbant Griffin has overseen the transition to digital media available via internet and if re-elected would continue to expand databases available for online searches as well as online probate forms and handbooks. Should the Registry resources continue to migrate into the online digital format? If so, which areas within the bailiwick of the Register of Wills would you prioritize for such a transition?
3.) Sensitivity Training
While Register Griffin has averred that sensitivity training is a priority, I have yet to see any proposal under that rubric. Perhaps, the Bi-lingual Materials and Pro-Bono Investigators initiatives described on his campaign website might be consider as sensitivity training. Regardless, I would like to know you opinion on the relative importance of sensitivity training for the Registry of Wills. If you deem such training as important what sort of programs might you propose?
Candidate Koutsoutis Response:
In all seriousness, Mr. Koutsoutis seems to be, at best, a placeholder candidate, for the GOP to save face by listing a full slate of candidates and sling a little mud. In fact, his website, hosted by the Young Republicans NET, is almost completely empty of content. As far as I can tell Mr. Koutsoutis is doing his wife, who happens to be a member of the MD GOP central committee, a favor. Yet, I thought I would give him the fullest of opportunities to respond and hopefully prove me wrong. It's been two weeks so far. So let's see what the incumbent has to say...
My attempt to engage the incumbant Joseph M. Griffin:
Incumbant Register Griffin,
I have made numerous attempts to contact your electoral challenger, Socrates Koutsoutis, for Register of Wills. However, all these attempts have yet to receive a response. Thus I send to you the e-mail I have sent to him in the hopes that you might better answer my queries regarding the top thre issues you highlight at Gazette.Net. In addition, I am asking you for a response to the top issue indicated by Mr. Koutsoutis, which is as follows...
4.) Fiscal Integrity
Candidate Koutsoutis has charged that there is a dearth of fiscal integrity at the Register of Wills, highlighting as his only example the $36,000 spent (over three years) on fitness instruction for the Registry staff. Please explain how this audit finding should not be viewed as a lack of fiscal integrity and honesty?
I encourage you to respond to my request for information as it will inform my choice to vote, or not vote for this office if I remain uninformed. My efforts to become an informed voter are also an opportunity for the candidates as I intend to publish the responses, or lack thereof, in an online forum that usually informs numerous other likely voters.
Incumbant Register of Will Griffin's Response:
Thank you for your interest in the election of the Register of Wills. I agree with you that it is often difficult to find coverage regarding this race and I am happy to provide you with more information.
First I will respond to the issue of fiscal integrity raised by my opponent. During my time as Register of Wills from 1998 to the present the office of the Register of Wills has been an example of fiscally responsible government.
Through conservative practices, close work with the Comptroller’s office regarding salaries and operations, and an efficient use of resources, the Montgomery County Register of Wills has been one of the few Register of Wills offices in the State operating well below its allocated budget. The total operating expense of the office is roughly .02% of the office’s total gross receipts.
My opponent has cited a fitness class offered to my employees as his basis of an accusation that this office has shown a lack of “fiscal integrity and honesty.” A legislative audit noted a health and wellness class I offered to my employees, which has been the only issue brought forward in twelve years of otherwise perfect legislative audits during my time as Register. The same health and wellness classes were being provided during previous legislative audits and full documentation was provided with no questions or concerns being raised. The yearly cost of the health and wellness classes represented .0007% of the office’s gross annual receipts. Following the legislative audit, the class was suspended.
I looked into providing a fitness class after reading about the State Wellness Program and their findings that for every dollar an employer invests in the health of its employees, a return of $3 to $6 can be expected. Club Maryland started offering State Employees a variety of wellness programs beginning in 1990. I contacted the Department of Budget and Management to inquire if I could offer a wellness program in the form of an exercise class for my employees and was assured that I could. I obtained three verbal bids as suggested by Procurement Procedures for any purchase under $2,500. Since the class was offered on a monthly basis with the cost dependent on staff participation, the purchase would fall well under the $2,500 limit. Though our health and wellness class was suspended, a class modeled after ours was provided at this year’s Maryland Association of Counties conference to promote healthy state employees.
Our probate mediation program, which is the first in the State, has received nothing but positive reviews. It reduces costs to the State by relieving an overburdened court system and reduces costs to individuals by providing an option to avoid costly litigation. The cases passing through the Orphans’ Court often revolve around long standing family issues. Mediation is able to provide a more nuanced solution than the Court and is often found more favorable to all parties involved.
The increased use of technology has been an ongoing function of the Register of Wills. When I was first elected Register in 1998, there were two computers shared by the entire office. Among other things, during my time as Register we have put a computer on the desk of every one of the forty employees and have four computers available for public use. All documents filed with this office are now scanned in and stored digitally. I have been personally involved in creating a website that includes the forms needed for probating an estate and a searchable estate index for all offices in the State.
The technology now exists to make estate documents available for online viewing. Although all documents filed with this office are public record, making them easily accessible must be approached cautiously. Putting documents that may include, names, addresses, and the amount inherited by an individual would provide too much opportunity to those looking to take advantage of these individuals. We are therefore moving with extreme caution on deciding what information to make available online.
The employees of the Register of Wills assist the public during one of the most difficult times of their lives and in doing such I believe sensitivity training is invaluable. The people that come through our doors have recently lost a loved one, and are now being required to complete a process with which they are completely unfamiliar. Our office has formed a close partnership with Hospice, and each of my employees has attended the same training seminars that are provided to Hospice Counselors in assisting those who are experiencing grief associated with death and dying.
Again, thank you for your interest in the Register of Wills. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have more questions. For more information, also visit my campaign website www.votejoegriffin.com and the Register of Wills website registers.maryland.gov
Register of Wills