Talking technology and open government with County Clerk Robert Christman
By Andrew Harris
While it might surprise you, “Allegany County is on the cutting edge of technology compared to the rest of New York State,” according to County Clerk Robert Christman.
The reason that we paid a visit to Christman’s office was to learn how to use the county information system typically known as, “IQS.” Starting next week, the Sun will be publishing a weekly overview of real estate transactions in Allegany County. In order to get that information, county public records need to be accessed and IQS is the vehicle.
After showing off the system which will allow us to access much more than real estate transactions, Christman invited us into his office to talk more about the power of the technology. The sophistication of the database system in Allegany County is driven by Christman who served as a Database instructor and engineer with the US Army for the first part of his military career. Christman spent 10 years in the Army and 10 plus years in the Air National Guard. He has made it a mission of his tenure as clerk to use technology to drive efficency and lower the cost of government for taxpayers. Our county clerk is an unabashed “Reagan Republican” who relishes in doing his work in that spirit.
Providing open records is required by law, be it by access to the database or by photocopy from the hard copy of Allegany County records dating back to 1807. Recent visits by “open government advocates,” who wanted to video and photograph county records to make a point allowed Christman to make his:
“The county clerk is mandated to maintain the county records, from 1807 until today. Maintaining those records is expensive and Allegany county recovers those costs by the fees we charge to copy documents. Anyone can come to our office and access documents, via database or in hard copy, anytime and at no charge. But if you want to make copies, you have to reimburse the taxpayer by paying the fee.”
The county also charges a fee for a subscription to access the database remotely, generating thousands per year in revenue. Lawyers, surveyors, abstract companies, real estate professionals, and financal services all subscribe to the service to access documents remotely. The bottom line is a largely self-funded county clerks office, minimizing taxpayer burdens.
Christman is quick to point out that the efficencies don’t end with good information management program, the people behind the data are a crack team of civil servants.
“The deputies and staff in the is office are all superstars, highly educated, and doing the work at a very high level. That makes our office work very efficiently and we are proud to be providing that value to Allegany County taxpayers.”
With a portrait of Ronald Reagan overlooking his office, Christman entertained a wide range of topics with us and while everything was “off the record,” one thing was clear: Allegany County Clerk Robert Christman is proud of the work that his office does everyday.