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Access for personal gain

By Staff | May 2, 2012

We are experiencing an influx of traffic throughout the county, as private enterprises compete to lease property and mineral rights for the purpose of drilling into pockets of oil and natural gas found deep in ancient shale formations. There is no question this new industrial “boom” has brought jobs, business and revenue into Tyler County, and for this we are grateful. However, this progress also brings with it a new set of obstacles. Recently, disagreements between outside contractors and county officials regarding access (or the alleged lack thereof) to records housed at the Tyler County Courthouse have been brought to the public’s attention. This conversation has reached an obvious boiling point, and both sides have expressed their opinions openly. Now it’s our turn.

When the Tyler County Courthouse was remodeled in 1922, the architects in charge of the project had no way of knowing how many people would utilize the facility in the future. Their only goal was to renovate and modify the building to better suit the needs of the county government at that time. This redesign came long before our knowledge of geology allowed us to fully explore or tap into the vast natural resources that lay miles beneath the soil of our rolling countryside; and decades preceding the introduction of proper names like “Marcellus” and “Utica” into the mainstream.

Today – aside from normal business and courtroom traffic – abstractors, brokers, and others can be observed on a daily basis researching public records for various oil and gas companies, resulting in a sudden increase in the courthouse population. In spite of the congestion caused by this increase, the county has endeavored to be as accommodating as possible to the employees of the various research firms. From purchasing tables and chairs, to installing electrical service to the main hall for the use of their equipment at no cost. It appears, however, the amicable gestures of the Tyler County officials are not enough to satisfy certain people, as evidenced by anonymous letters and phone calls, and impromptu visits to the Tyler Star News.

As valuable as their work is to the lease procurement process, the abstractors must take into consideration the limited amount of space available to them. There have been days when as many as 70 people have desired access to the records vault in the County Clerk’s office, which can only accommodate 20 people at a time. As a result, the clerk has been forced to put in place certain rules for the visitors to ensure fairness and equality, while maintaining order and public access to the books.

The keywords are FAIRNESS and EQUALITY.

As reporters, we visit the Tyler County Courthouse on a weekly basis and we have witnessed firsthand the congestion and the confusion caused by the influx of traffic at the facility. It’s unfortunate when for-profit entities are so set on monopolizing public records, they are unable to compromise with others or abide by the simple guidelines set forth to ensure equal access for all.

It’s important for everyone to realize the county records are housed in a small room, not unlike those used to store important documents in counties of comparable size. It’s not only unfair, but absolutely absurd for anyone to expect the County Clerk or her employees to bend the rules, move the records or over-extend themselves for the personal gain of a select few.