Hennepin County selects first woman to run real estate recording office in 160 years

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For the first time in 160 years, Hennepin County has appointed a woman as recorder and registrar of titles.

“I’m honored,” said Amber Bougie, who took over the role after serving as chief deputy recorder the past eight years. “I’m looking forward to many more years of service as a leader with Hennepin County.”

The county’s recorder and registrar of titles logs documents from real estate sales, levies fees for various property transactions and files tax lien releases.

Even during a pandemic, Hennepin County is experiencing its highest number of real estate recordings in 15 years.

More than 300,000 records are expected to be processed this year, generating more than $125 million in deed and mortgage fees for the state.

Bougie came to the county after handling real estate, family, discrimination and unemployment legal aid cases for low-income clients in Hawaii and Minnesota.

As the county’s deputy recorder, she helped coordinate information for a mapping project identifying more than 25,000 racially restrictive deed covenants.

When the University of Minnesota approached the county for the discriminatory racial and religious covenant mapping prejudice project, Bougie and historical property records expert Penny Petersen helped provide access and enhance search engines to quickly find thousands of digital files. The covenants were common throughout Hennepin County the first half of the 20th century until the federal government outlawed the practice in 1968.

Last year, the Hennepin County Board passed a resolution denouncing the covenants, and the county has joined Just Deeds, a coalition that helps people renounce the language in their property documents. Several hundred owners have taken action, and cities including Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Charlottesville, Va., are undertaking mapping projects, said Golden Valley attorney Maria Cisneros, who is active with Just Deeds.

“It’s interesting to see records used in this way,” said Bougie. “It shows how the covenants helped certain people build wealth and grow racial disparity in the city.”

Bougie has helped the county become a leader in electronic property recordings and frequently testifies before lawmakers on technology and legal issues. Hennepin County and nearly a dozen cities are working to rectify racial covenants, and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith introduced federal legislation in July to examine the history of the discriminatory practice.

“Amber Bougie is an intentional and thoughtful leader,” said Mark Chapin, the county’s director of residential and real estate services. “She is inclusive in her work.”

Bougie oversees 60 staffers who are now all working remotely during the pandemic. The office experienced an 80% increase in business over the past 15 years, driven largely by the hot real estate market, she said.

The pandemic also has some rethinking estate planning and transferring property and deeds into trusts, she said. There are also many other recordings the office handles, such as foreclosures, military discharges and tax liens, said Jim Atchison, county assessor.

The county could have faced a massive backlog of records if they hadn’t spent money on technology to file electronically and digitize recordings, said Chapin. In 2012, 23% of recordings were filed electronically, but the county reached 91% of electronic filings this year.

Before coming to the county, Bougie served as managing attorney for 19 counties for Central Minnesota Legal Services. She was offered the county’s chief deputy recorder job in 2013 and appointed to the top position when Martin McCormick retired in June.

Bougie said she’s grateful for a diverse work experience and feels perfectly positioned to excel in her new role.

“I like that I can use my managerial skills and feel I’m more in the action and able to connect with people,” she said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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