As life continues to move towards pre-pandemic activity levels, we’re seeing more and more opportunities for in-person engagement.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with the Washtenaw County director of elections, Ed Golembiewski, about some new information about what is happening now there.
Lisa Barry: As life continues to move towards pre-pandemic activity levels, we're seeing more and more opportunities for in-person engagement. This is Lisa Barry and we're seeing that happen at the Washtenaw County Clerk's office. And here to talk about that is County Director of Elections Ed Golembiewski. Thanks for talking to us, Ed.
Ed Golembiewski: Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Lisa Barry: What has changed? What's the big news there?
Ed Golembiewski: Well, it is now possible for our customers to walk in for service -- for most services here-- at the Washtenaw County Clerk Register's office. And of course, we're very pleased to be able to to welcome the public back into the building for the past year or maybe 13 months. Our services have been available in person, although an appointment was required. And now, almost all of our services are available again with no appointment needed. That includes things like all of the services provided by the Vital Records Division. So, those customers that need to obtain a copy of a birth, death, marriage, business name, or military discharge record or apply for a marriage license or a Washtenaw County identification card--there's no appointment necessary for those-- as well as all of the services provided in the Register of Deeds office. So recording a document or obtaining a copy of a recorded document.
Lisa Barry: How did that work for you over the past year with people having to make an appointment?
Ed Golembiewski: Well, you know, it certainly has not been ideal. It has, of course, allowed us to be able to to accept customers into the building in person. We've tried to make sure that we maintain social distance and that we enforce all of the emergency health orders that were in effect for so long. And being appointment-only allowed us to be able to keep our staff safe and keep the public safe while still being able to provide in-person services. A lot of the work that we do and a lot of the services that we provide can be accessed remotely. And we've been encouraging the public to, you know, order copies of records they need online rather than coming in person. And you can even apply for a marriage license online these days. You can access the Register of Deeds repository of records online. You can register to vote online. So, we've been able to get by with relatively limited appointment availability. Although, I would say, you know, as the pandemic has gone on, as vaccines have become available, as the cases in Washtenaw County have dramatically declined, we have made more appointments available over the last year to be able to have more folks in. But, again, for most services that we provide, it's now possible to to simply walk into the office during normal business hours. The two exceptions to that are U.S. passport applications, which we do accept now again by appointment, as well as concealed pistol license applications. Those are accepted in person by appointment as well.
Lisa Barry: Mask or no mask. Do have a policy along those lines?
Ed Golembiewski: Well, the county has updated its mask policy to reflect current health orders or the lack thereof. Masks are optional for fully vaccinated staff and customers.
Lisa Barry: Have you learned anything? A lot of people had to adapt or "pivot" was the keyword for the pandemic in 2020. Has the Washtenaw County Clerk's office learned anything or made any changes as a result of that?
Ed Golembiewski: Well, yes. Certainly, we have had to pivot. And yeah, I think that that's probably the buzzword of the last, you know, 13 to 18 months is that we've had to pivot and adapt. Some of the services that we provide, prior to the pandemic, we weren't able to actually provide remotely. And that did include marriage license applications, which, of course, was a major concern heading into last summer. Our office was closed, just absolutely closed by order of the Washtenaw County administrator, for a couple of months. So we couldn't receive anyone in person for a period of a couple of months. And we needed to immediately adapt. And we began a program whereby we would accept virtual appointments for marriage licenses. And that was quite successful. And it's actually become almost the preferred method for folks to do business with us when they are getting married. Why spend time coming into the office when you can simply apply online? And that's the case for a lot of other services. We've been trying to promote our availability online as much as possible and have seen, you know, the public respond very well to that. Now, of course, there are certainly cases where it's more difficult for the public to come or to do business with us remotely. And again, we're very glad to be able to allow folks to come back in without having to call in advance and set up an appointment. In a new service that we're also providing is as a service called "Fraud Guard," which is just a simple way to help folks in Washtenaw County prevent themselves from becoming the victim of property fraud. Folks can visit Washtenaw dot org slash Fraud Guard and register to receive an email alert when a land document containing your name is recorded at the Washtenaw County Register of Deeds, which gives you an early warning of potential property fraud being committed in your name.
Lisa Barry: And you're always busy at the county clerk's office. You've got some elections coming up in early August?
Ed Golembiewski: We do. August 3rd is an election date in Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, and Northfield Township. So, voters in those three municipalities here in Washtenaw County will have a special election. Absentee ballots are available right now, and you can contact your township clerk to obtain one or you can go online to Michigan dot gov slash vote. And then, of course, Election Day, you can vote in person at your polling location. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., just like they always are in election. Results will be posted at Washtenaw dot org slash Elections.
Lisa Barry: Washtenaw County Director of Elections Ed Golembiewski. Thanks so much for talking to us here on 89-1 WEMU.
Ed Golembiewski: You are very welcome. Thanks for having me.
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