Staff members of the Anchorage Recorder's Office, in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, are seen on Aug. 7, 2020. Pictured from left: Erika Reed, Wendie Wilson, Linda Oliver, Johann Mueller, Michelle Cook, Reece Parks, Brian Cutshaw, Steve Stewart and Andrea Kawagley. Not pictured: Wade Bertrand, Coral Brown, Dan Card, Brittnie DeLaGrange, Trish Dohman, Heather Ezzell, Kristan Hillstrom, Ginger Hobson, Nanette Jackson, Brian Morin, Sunny Park, Lea Shaw, Laura Souders, Chrissi Thurman, George Tobey, Anneloes Tyers, Brandi Whan, Aaron Woehler and Christine Yandell. (Photo courtesy of Department of Natural Resources)
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Here is part six in our series sharing exceptional work by Alaska state employees during the pandemic. The State of Alaska has long been one of our closest and most reliable partners, helping to develop workforce housing, build and renovate domestic violence shelters, improve libraries and start from scratch a philanthropy for all of Alaska, the Pick.Click.Give program.

Up now: the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees all state-owned land, water and natural resources, except for fish and game. The department manages oil and gas development, mining, agriculture, forestry, and state parks and outdoor recreation.

The area being called out is often overlooked, the State Recorder’s Office. “It’s not on fire, it not an immense oil or natural gas field, it’s not a beautiful park, it’s not even controversial!” said Mary Kay Ryckman, a Department of Natural Resources executive assistant. The work of recorder’s offices is somewhat tedious. Yet “they have really hung in there and adapted during this whole crummy thing.”

The Kenai Recorder’s Office, part of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, is staffed by Shelly Merrill and Amy Peikert. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources)

The Recorder’s Office is the official keeper of various property and financial records: deeds and mortgages, tax liens and child support liens, court judgments and decrees, security agreements and Uniform Commercial Code filings on commercial transactions. Its work ensures a permanent legal record of real property transactions and interest holdings. During the pandemic, the Recorder’s Office and its cousins have been considered essential and have remained open, allowing business to continue mostly as usual. 

Early on, teams went into high gear. Staff members quickly set up home offices to telework for the first time, even bringing their PCs and monitors home as laptops were in short supply nationwide. Other staff remained in the office because many of their duties cannot be done remotely. They arrived with masks and cleaning supplies. They adapted processes to allow for social distancing. Offices were outfitted with plexiglass barriers, cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer to ensure the safety of workers and the public. When someone tested positive, that office was closed briefly for a deep cleaning, but soon reopened.

The Fairbanks Recorder’s Office team is pictured from left to right: Barb Smith, Kathy Frizzera and Karie Hawk. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources)

Additional training was provided, and policies and procedures were updated to ensure that all staff, regardless of their physical location, had the tools needed to process documents accurately, securely and quickly. The entire team leaned in to master cutting-edge technology that has allowed customers to use online recording systems and make document requests from the safety of homes and offices. Anchorage staff were quickly cross-trained to assist with processing commercial transactions. Archival staff stepped up to ensure document images were processed and available to staff and the public. Through our leadership team, decisions were made that kept our staff safe and supported.

“Despite everything going on in the world around us, these offices were able to continue operating with a much-needed semblance of ‘normalcy,’ ” DNR Commissioner Corri Feige said. “Many members of the public and city and state officials have provided positive feedback to the teams. We are grateful, too, for the dedication, flexibility, and commitment to providing outstanding customer service during a time of crisis and stress.”

About the Unsung Heroes series

Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan recently asked State of Alaska commissioners to highlight some of those whose efforts to adapt and respond stand out for going above and beyond, often in ways not seen by the public. This series is the result.