They’re doing good deeds at the Oklahoma County Clerk’s Office — putting every land record on the books on the Internet, way ahead of most counties. Almost all of some 8.7 million documents — 17 million pages — are online, from mortgage documents, mineral deeds, liens and other legal "papers,” from original land patents granted after the Land Run of 1889 to last week’s property deals, said Mark Mishoe, chief deputy for County Clerk Carolynn Caudill. Universal Commercial Code documents, business and financial filings used to secure collateral, also are online for the entire state, since by statute most UCC filings in Oklahoma go to the Oklahoma County clerk. It’s taken five years, but Caudill said people in real estate and the oil-and-gas business, among others, say the process has been worth it. The conversion cost about $2.5 million — from a $5 fee assessed since 2000 on most documents filed. It’s paying for itself in increased government efficiency, said County Commissioner Jim Roth, who was the chief deputy clerk when the conversion began in 2001. Businesses that rely on county records also reap the benefit of going virtually "paperless,” he said. Caudill said her staffing has remained steady even with increased responsibilities — and a housing boom that has broken records for home construction and land development. Oklahoma County has been a national leader in the digitization of records, said Roth. Caudill’s office has presented seminars here and across the country to other custodians of public records. In Oklahoma, title companies and energy companies, especially, are interested in other counties putting records online, Caudill said. Some counties have resisted, she said, out of fear of "centralization.” But counties using software developed by her office, and putting their records online, would maintain actual and legal custody of their own records, Caudill said. "Our main goal is to share resources,” she said. "We know the rural counties don’t have the volume to even think about having a system like this.” Clint Dake, a landman for Baron Exploration in Edmond, said having digitized records in Oklahoma County makes him a lot more efficient at his work lining up and administering mineral leases. "I can work from home except for some missing documents,” Dake said, sitting at one of the clerk’s tall work tables with a thick, old record book to his right and a laptop computer to his left. Dake said he was "chaining title in some old part of the city with eight different platted neighborhoods on one half-section (320 acres)” — a job in any case, but made easier with an on-line system. Bill Penhall, who oversees land operations in Oklahoma and north Texas for Devon Energy Corp., said on-line land records save money. "Online records help us work more efficiently by allowing more convenient access to county land records from our offices. It reduces the amount of travel time necessary to obtain information from courthouses,” Penhall said. "Having convenient access to county records is good for business, and we fully support promoting these types of efficiencies.” Historical data available online is as important to his work as more recent information. "I go back to 1895-ish,” Dake said. Historical information is what will entice the general public to explore the system, Caudill said, noting that the county is being careful to keep personal data such as social security numbers off the Internet, even though it appears on some public documents. Documents appearing online, she pointed out, are not certified, which comes only with documents obtained in person at the clerk’s office.
Oklahoma County Clerk Carolynn Caudill stands in an Oklahoma County records file room at 320 Robert S. Kerr in Oklahoma City Wednesday. Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman