Swenson, Wenner will face off in November elections for the title of Becker County Recorder

Experience and knowledge. Those are the two key words both candidates stress that they have when it comes to the Becker County recorder position. Deputy Recorder Karen Wenner and Planning and Zoning Administrator Patty Swenson are vying for the c...


Experience and knowledge. Those are the two key words both candidates stress that they have when it comes to the Becker County recorder position.

Deputy Recorder Karen Wenner and Planning and Zoning Administrator Patty Swenson are vying for the county recorder position during the Nov. 4 election.

Both candidates bring more than two decades worth of experience to the table, and both say they are the strongest candidate to oversee the recording of the county’s vital records and land documents.

Both women have worked for the county for 24 years and both in their respective offices.

What does the county recorder do?


Before looking at who is more qualified, the people on the street seem to question what the office even does.

“The question I get most is ‘what does a county recorder do?’ It’s a tough position to politic for,” Swenson said of her door-to-door knocking and meeting people.

“We’re a pretty diverse office,” Wenner said. “We have all the land transactions in Becker County. We also have births, deaths and marriage licenses, and we do passports, notary commissions and also file all the veterans discharge papers, so we have lots of different, important records.

“We’re really going to impact citizens at some point in their life,” she added. “I don’t think a lot of people understand what we do. We have so many things, we really do touch everybody’s lives at one point or another.”

Background is the key to maintaining that transition, she said.

“I think it’s very important that the person who moves into the recorder position have a background in (the recorder’s office) just because there are so many different rules for each of the different aspects of the office. I’ve worked there for 24 years and I’m still learning things,” Wenner said.

For example, she said, someone came in Thursday asking for something that no one had even heard of. In 30 years, it had never come up until Thursday.

“It’s just a very challenging position but also very interesting. It’s never quite the same any two days, which is fun,” she said.


Years of experience

Though Swenson may not work in the office, she said she has plenty of experience with land documents before they even get to the recorder’s office.

“Most of the land transfers begin in planning and zoning, so that’s the knowledge I bring,” she said.

“I am very familiar with the land record part of the recorder’s office. The vital statistics, the certifications that are required of that, are similar to certifications to the planning and zoning office, which I hold,” Swenson said, adding that she would have to do some continuing education for the certifications. “I’m very confident I can do that.”

The software between planning and zoning and the recorder’s office is the same also, she said.

“I think there’s some way to streamline the process in the county. That’s one of my goals,” Swenson said.

When a land document is recorded, she said that she would know that it meets the statutory guidelines. Planning and zoning has to certify the plats before they go to the recorder’s office.

“I think that’s a very important part of it, and I think that’s part of that streamlining,” she said.


“The biggest thing for me is the knowledge I have with the commissioners, working through the budget seasons, and I’ve obtained for Becker County, working with my staff of course, hundreds of thousands of grant dollars just in planning and zoning. That’s one of the things I plan to look at in the recording side of it. That’s one of my priorities.”

Swenson said that on top of experience, she advocates for change.

“If elected, I think I would take a fresh look in the recorder’s office, and change is good,” Swenson said.

“Experience in the office is very important,” Wenner said.

“If we are extremely busy, especially when someone is on vacation for example, having that background, Darlene can step into anybody’s position that she needs to, and I will also be able to do that. Therefore we can work through those crunch times a little bit easier.”

She said that although they all have their specialties, they can each work in another area within the recorder’s office if needed also.

Cross-training is something she would like to work on more if elected. “Just so everybody is a little more comfortable with each aspect.”

Many of the vital statistics are run through the state, so the county office must follow state rules and criteria. Interestingly though, marriage licenses are each done by county standards.


“So there are 87 different variations out there,” Wenner said with a laugh.

“For land transfers, you need to at least know the basics of what the statutes are telling you you need to make it a valid transfer.”

At the state level, as of Dec. 1, counties will lose the Uniform Commercial Code documents. They are used a lot between lenders and farmers, Wenner explained.

The documents were first done on paper, and no one could do a statewide search because each county handled them.

Then in 2012, all of the documents were merged together electronically and people could do a statewide search for the documents they needed.

“That took away a little bit because we didn’t have them in our office. We were called a satellite office at that point. Now, they’ve decided they don’t need the satellite offices anymore.

“That will impact the farmers a lot. The lenders in town relied on us a lot because they could come in and say, ‘I need a search done,’ and we could do it in a day for them. I don’t think they’re going to get that kind of service from the state,” Wenner said.

Working for the county


When Karen and her husband, Dan, moved to Detroit Lakes, she wanted a job that was more in a career field. She also wanted a part-time position at the time because she had two young children.

Her children, Kelsey and Jennifer, are now adults.

The position in the recorder’s office fit what she wanted, so she applied. When the position became full-time, her kids were older and she moved into full-time.

“We love the Detroit Lakes area,” Wenner said. “We moved here 27 years ago, and we were ecstatic when we moved here.”

In her time away from her job, Wenner said she sings in her church choir.

“Music is a big part of my life. I enjoy listening to it, playing piano, singing. Tried to learn guitar, still working on that one.”

She also loves to read, though there isn’t enough time for that, it seems.             

“Most of the time I have free time, I spend it with my family,” she said.


Swenson can relate.

Living on Big Toad Lake, she said family comes to visit most weekends.

“What I enjoy most is family,” she said.

Swenson, whose son, Tyler, is a student at North Dakota State University majoring in agronomy, is an avid member of the Humane Society of the Lakes, including past board member. She said she enjoys the outdoors and gardening.

She started in the planning and zoning office 24 years ago doing GIS work.

“I think planning and zoning had the first PC when I started there 24 years ago,” she said.

The administrator at the time wanted her to go further than GIS, though, and got her out in the field and getting certifications. So from GIS, she went to inspections before being name deputy director.

“He (former planning and zoning administrator Dan Holm) appointed me deputy because I had the experience and knowledge in the department to assist him.”

After Holm left, the county board appointed Swenson administrator.

Twelve years after that appointment, “the reason I’m running for county recorder is I see it as an opportunity with Darlene (Maneval) leaving. I certainly wouldn’t have run against her. I look for opportunity and I look for change.”

Her time in planning and zoning has been a great asset for a switch to the recorder’s office, she said.

“I’ve done the budget. I have the experience and knowledge. I work well in the community with key leaders, decision makers, our county commissioners and our peers in the court house, other department heads,” she said.

“As recorder, I would like to see a more cohesive team in land management, which would include the auditor, the assessor, the recorder’s office and the planning and zoning office. All those land documents, or records, are important to all of us,” she added.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield .

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