Merged row offices get directors

Lawyer to run Court Records Department; recorder of deeds to head real estate division

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The final phase of Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato's consolidation of the centuries-old row offices was made official yesterday with his appointment of two women to lead the reconstituted departments.

Kate Barkman, an attorney with a Downtown law firm who practices labor, employment and management law, will be director of the Department of Court Records, which will include the former elected offices of clerk of court, register of wills and prothonotary.

Valerie McDonald Roberts, the first African American in county history to run a row office when she was elected recorder of deeds in 2001, was named manager of the real estate division, which replaces the recorder of deeds office.

Both appointments are effective Jan. 1.

Mr. Onorato said those consolidations, along with the reduction of 200 county jobs through voluntary departures, attrition and layoffs, will save the county more than $10.9 million next year.

"There's been a lot of work leading up to this," Mr. Onorato said at a county courthouse news conference where he announced the appointments.

"It will survive all of us standing here today."

The consolidation, authorized by Allegheny County voters in May 2005, means that 10 separate row offices have been reduced to four: controller, district attorney, sheriff and treasurer.

The final phase could take up to two years to implement completely, Mr. Onorato said, according to a nearly completed 18-month study the county commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for State Courts.

The study will determine how the consolidated offices can best combine bank accounts, computer systems and telephones while complying with state Supreme Court rules for orphan's, criminal and juvenile court procedures.

"We're not surprised it's going to take one or two years to get this done," Mr. Onorato said. "We consolidated three offices that have been around for 200 years. Give me 12 months."

In her new position, which comes with a salary of $92,000, Ms. Barkman will have an $85,000-a-year deputy, Eric Feder. Ms. McDonald Roberts' salary will be $90,000.

The details of the consolidation were hammered out in a memorandum of understanding signed just before yesterday's news conference, Mr. Onorato said. The memorandum -- signed by him, President Judge Joseph M. James, District Court Administrator Raymond L. Billotte and county Manager James M. Flynn Jr. -- outlines how future directors of court records will be chosen and details the 10-member board that will establish policy and procedure for the new office of court records.

The memorandum could be abrogated in the future by a county executive and president judge, Mr. Onorato said.

Originally, Mr. Onorato touted the most recent consolidation as saving the county about $750,000. Yesterday, he supplied figures showing a savings of an additional $160,000. About two-thirds of the savings come from the reduction of 200 jobs.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 18, 2007) This story as originally published Dec. 15, 2007 about the savings from Allegheny County row office consolidations misstated the total savings. The consolidations alone will save $910,000 next year. The savings from 200 layoffs is $10 million, a combined savings next year of $10.9 million.

Steve Levin can be reached at or 412-263-1919.


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