Crook County clerk a Notary of the Year

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: June 08. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – As she assisted a couple applying for a marriage license Wednesday afternoon, there was no indication that Crook County Clerk Dee Berman had spent the last few days enjoying the Hollywood star treatment.

“This is one of my favorite parts of my job, is doing marriage licenses,” Berman told the elderly couple. “Congratulations!”

Wednesday was her first day back in the office after spending several days in Los Angeles last week. Berman, 59, was one of four people in the country the National Notary Association recently named Notary of the Year Special Honoree, a prestigious distinction from the 300,000-member organization. As part of her award, Berman received an all-expenses-paid trip to the Notary Association’s annual conference in L.A.

Timothy Reiniger, executive director of the Chatsworth, Calif.-based National Notary Association, said that Berman’s efforts last year lobbying for a bill in the state Legislature to improve education for notaries caught the organization’s notice.

“That is an award we give to those who just go above and beyond in representing the notary office in this country and also who lead efforts to improve the office,” Reiniger said. “She certainly was a standout last year and actually has been for a while, so we were pleased to be able to give her that honor this year.”

Berman said she was not prepared for the size of the conference, which included about 1,500 members of the association, or the perks afforded to the four honorees and one person named National Notary of the Year.

“They really rolled out the red carpet for us – it was astonishing, actually,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to be welcomed when I walked into a room and escorted to the best seat in the house, and it was like that with every function we attended.”

The recipients were all nominated for the awards and then chosen by committees within the Notary Association. In Berman’s case, the Secretary of State’s Office put together her nomination, which Reiniger said is “unusual.” Most of the honorees, he said, tend to be individual notaries who are nominated by colleagues, friends or other people who have been impressed by their work.

“I don’t know of many county recording officials who have actually gotten this award,” Reiniger said. “It’s very well deserved in her case – we’re just delighted.”

Berman, who was born and raised in Prineville and has served as the county clerk for the past 12 years, said she was “stunned (and) elated” when she found out about the award. She was first notified in late November but was formally presented with the award at a banquet Saturday night. She said she received a plaque, a $125 award, a year’s membership in the National Notary Association and a year of notary’s insurance.

“I think, quite honestly, the greatest part of the honor was being nominated by the secretary of state,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s especially nice when it’s a state official that’s recognizing you.”

In addition to working on the legislation to require all notaries to take a three-hour class and pass an exam, Berman also has worked in her office to reduce the number of documents rejected because of improper notarization. She started training for notaries to make sure that documents were accurate. Notaries are authorized to certify documents and take depositions.

Berman first became a notary in the 1960s and achieved certification again when she was elected clerk in 1995. She said she was motivated to improve training and education for notaries because of “the horror stories of notaries losing absolutely everything because they had made a mistake.”

“A notary has personal liability for whatever they do,” she said. “There are some that are doing things that they knew were illegal but not everyone did, they did it out of ignorance … I think that was the thing that drove me to work so hard on getting mandatory testing.”

In her characteristically unassuming manner, she added that she had a lot of assistance in getting the bill passed from the Oregon Association of County Clerks – which she was the president of at the time – the Secretary of State’s Office and Rep. George Gilman, R-Medford, who represents Crook County and part of Deschutes County and sponsored the legislation.

“I didn’t do it by myself,” she said. “There were a lot of people that did a lot of things that made me look really good.”

Berman said she was working in the county finance department 12 years ago when the then-county clerk decided to retire. The clerk and her supervisor in the finance department convinced her to run for the position, although she was initially hesitant.

Now, she said, some of the best parts of her job are performing weddings, handing out marriage licenses and supervising election season.

She is known for her trademark large earrings and color-coordinated outfits, especially on election night when she dons red, white and blue ensembles. On Wednesday, a normal business day, she wore a pair of black-and-white polka-dot flower earrings, a black blouse with white polka dots, and a black skirt and cardigan.

Before she went to work in the county courthouse, she said, she wasn’t aware that the clerk’s role included activities like marrying people, licensing dogs and helping people with historical research.

“There isn’t a part of the duties in the clerk’s office that I dislike,” she said. “We wear a lot of different hats, county clerks do, and some of them are just world’s apart, but they’re all necessary and they’re all fun.”

In her own career, Berman has worn many different hats over the years. Her first job out of high school, when she was 18 years old, was in one of Prineville’s lumber mills. She worked for an attorney and was a bookkeeper for many years, and then opened a deli and smokehouse called Makin’ Bacon and More. After that, she went to work for the county.

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said that Berman is fun to work with but also an exacting clerk.

“Dee finds joy in everything, and the drudgery of indexing this or indexing that or walking through the minutia of tiny little numbers just absolutely tickles Dee to death. And she enjoys every minute of it,” Cooper said. “She is the worst clerk in the state to have to submit your campaign finance report to – she once turned mine back to me because I entered dashes in a line instead of zeros.”

Cooper said county officials appreciate her efforts to improve documentation.

“We’re very proud of her,” he said. “Notarization is generally one of those important functions of business or legal life that you just sort of take for granted, but done wrong it can be very, very expensive, so it’s great that Dee has taken the extra time to make sure that it’s done right in this county.”

Berman said she is not done with her efforts to reform Oregon’s notary laws. She said she would like to see legislation passed that would require that state documents that need to be notarized have a large enough space to affix a notary’s seal, a legal requirement.

“I’ve already warned them that I’m coming,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know how far I’m going to get on this one because I had DMV hang up on me when I complained about it.”

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