Partnership will bring public records for 9 counties online

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county_lee_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Land records currently available only inside the Lee County Chancery Clerk’s office may be assessable anywhere with an Internet connection within six months.

Lee County Chancery Clerk Bill Benson volunteered this week for his office to serve as the pilot to place records online as part of the nine-county partnership involving Three Rivers Planning and Development District and a Mississippi State University research center.

Placing roughly 250,000 Lee County records dating to October 2000 online will provide wider access to documents including land deeds, federal tax and construction liens and deeds of trust. Currently, those records are only available from within the chancery clerk’s office in the Lee County Justice Center.

Benson said the effort helps provide easier access to the documents for people who can’t visit his office during business hours or otherwise prefer online viewing.

“It’s another way to provide information in this office and make it more assessable to the public,” Benson said. “The more user-friendly we can become the better.”

Participating counties of Prentiss, Lee, Tishimingo, Itawamba, Monroe, Calhoun, Pontotoc, Union and Sunflower have either chancery or circuit clerks offices involved in the project, or both. Lee County’s participating also includes county court records.

Viewing documents online will be free, but each county office will determine if and how much printing documents will cost.

Ronnie Bell, government functions director at Three Rivers, said the effort to bring the project started with digitizing public records using terminals inside the clerk offices and soon will start making them available online, eventually providing ways to file the records online.

Using land records for the pilot effort allows the largest amount of documents at the Lee County office that require no redactions. Other records such as divorces, wills and estates may require longer amounts of time before posting online due to necessary removal of sensitive information like names of minors.

“We’re going to work methodically through this,” Bell said.

Lee County Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin also volunteered her office, which also keeps Lee County Court records, to serve as a pilot for the program. Efforts to make those records available online will begin after the chancery clerk office’s pilot effort.

Circuit court records, however, will require more time to place online since they often contain Social Security numbers, individuals’ date of birth and other personal information that will be redacted prior to posting.

Providing county records to the public online also involves keeping them secure. Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi, director of MSU’s National Strategic Planning & Analysis Center, said the effort includes tapping into the university’s nationally recognized computer security expertise and other disciplines.

Mississippi counties already providing online access to records include Harrison, Madison, DeSoto and Lafayette.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com