HAMMONTON—Hammonton resident Joseph Giralo wrapped up his first year as Atlantic County Clerk and has stated that it has been a great experience as county clerk. Looking forward to 2023, Giralo believed that the clerk’s office made so many positive changes and couldn’t believe that a year went by already.
When Giralo took over as county clerk, he said he and his team worked on cleaning up the offices in Mays Landing and satellite offices in Atlantic City, removing anything that was “bad, outdated and just laying around.”
“We are doing, and continue to do, upgrades on new computer screens, new computers, everything within the department here that’s needed to be done,” Giralo said.
He also noted that when he took over, the clerk’s office was 12,000 documents behind that needed to be recorded. The office was behind in keeping up for awhile, whether it was the times and refinancing but as of today, the number is down to 4,100.
“Those documents are being turned around to title companies, individuals and everyone else much quicker than we were a year ago. Before, you were looking at four or five months to get a document back. We’ve taken that time down to three weeks, which is huge. I want to get to the point where it’s returned within a couple of days and the staff has been wonderful in getting that job done,” Giralo said.
New initiatives that Giralo has worked on is the Property Alert Service, which citizens can go on the clerk’s website and sign up for. A lot of cross training has taken place with the employees, moving the staff between Mays Landing and Atlantic City offices, doing recording, indexing, passports, etc.
Giralo noted that when he took over as county clerk, the morale in the office wasn’t at an all-time high so he made it a goal to help boost it and have employees enjoy coming to work. Having staff meetings as often as possible, Giralo tries to be transparent with the staff.
“I’m here everyday, I’m first one in every morning, transparent, go around, I like to have an open-door policy. They know that if there’s something that’s an issue, let’s talk about it, let’s get this resolved,” Giralo said.
One of the goals in Giralo’s 90-day plan when he took over was improving the quality and integrity of election ballots, to which this was the first election in many years that there were no mistakes, with the ballots correct and handled properly, meeting every statute and deadlines. He also added an election department, with the department being hands on with the primaries, voting by mail and speaking to individuals about the elections.
Giralo hopes to add another satellite office in the western end of Atlantic County within the next two years, with space and budget constraints delaying the process. He wants to give tours of the county seat to the public, aiming towards the second half of 2023, as he shifts books of the entire clerk’s office history from the surrogate’s office to the downstairs of the building.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to doing tours of the county seat, especially to our fourth grade students. Being a former school board member, that’s where New Jersey history is taught so I think that it’s very important that they would be able to come to the county seat and learn all about their county, when it was formed, how it was formed, where we came from as we quickly approach our 200th birthday of Atlantic County, which will be in 2037,” Giralo said.
Giralo will continue to meet with title agencies heading into 2023 as they try to cut down on the errors that come in so that they don’t go back and forth, aiming to make the process smoother. The same open-door policy with his staff goes with title agencies as well.
“It’s important that they know the steps that we go through to verify and put a document online. Quite frankly when you send garbage in, you’re going to get it back so that delays the process and that’s how the office gets behind in what we do,” Giralo said.
He hopes to do some training classes for next year, with an office and a roundtable in the wing of the clerk’s office. He wants to bring in outside people to see what they do and the process of going through the documents.
“When you send things in and we can’t record it, we’re sending it back. These are the reasons why and we want to work with you and we’ve seen a lot of progress. When I first took office, we had a lot of title agencies and municipalities that were upset with us, not happy with us because we were so far behind. They didn’t understand what we went through to put a document on so we went through and educated them on that,” Giralo said.
He noted an experience with one agency and how he handed them a document with 200 errors on it, their tune changed and it helped clean up on the errors made. This helped make the process flow, which they tried to do and improve the process.
“So much time is lost when you keep sending a document back and forth, back and forth. If you went to have a settlement on a home, you’re not getting your deed and mortgage because of this back and forth. If it comes in the portal and it’s done once and it’s clean and it goes back, it cuts down that time and that’s how we’re also bringing down that number [of delayed documents] from 12,000 to 4,000,” Giralo said.
The projects that Giralo has in mind for 2023 is shifting the books from the surrogates office to the downstairs of the clerk’s office. After shifting those, he’ll look to acquire funds sto have the books and records digitalized starting from 1973.
He’s hoping to bring in new staff members for 2023 to fill open positions and to shift current staff members into office positions as he is planning for the future of the clerk’s office when he’s gone.
Giralo has enjoyed the job and the staff he’s worked with and admits that it was a growing period of the staff growing accustomed to him and his hands-on management style, which he said has made a difference with the staff. Giralo made it a point that any concerns that the Atlantic County residents have can reach out as the clerk’s office is available, whether it’s in office or by Facebook or phone call, and to make sure they’re served.