From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 49 - March 6, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Recorded document altered

by Cat Urbigkit

Boulder resident Bubba Larsen is on the Sublette County Commission's Friday afternoon meeting agenda to discuss his concerns about county officials altering an officially recorded document in the courthouse.

"I have a real problem when a county employee can go into the records and change a legal document, in my case, the numbers," Larsen said when contacted for an interview last week.

The document is a resolution signed by Sublette County Commissioners Bill Cramer, Gordon Johnston and Betty Fear, and attested to by Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford in July 2001. The original zoning resolution approved the rezoning of two acres to rural residential mobile home/planned unit development and six acres to general commercial/planned unit development.

The six-acre change was apparently a typographical error and should have been four acres, not six, according to county officials. But a copy of the original zoning resolution was officially recorded in the county clerk's office on July 19, 2001, at 8:20 a.m., according to the certification put on the document by deputy clerk Cathy Saxton.

That document, found in Book Three of the county resolutions in the vault in the clerk's office, was recently altered with white-out to correct it to read "four" and not "six."

"I am alleging a county employee altered a legally recorded document by changing the number from six to four," Larsen said.

In an interview last Friday, Lankford said when the zoning office became aware of the typo the week before, "They came in with the original resolution and changed the original resolution ... so we changed the face page of the resolution," and sent a copy to Larsen.

"It's a typo," Lankford said of the six-acre number. After Larsen questioned the document being altered, Lankford said, "We changed it back to the old resolution."

Actually, the document was altered again to reflect the six acres and not four. This was the third version of the same document, with the same official recording of date, time and signatures.

"We're now going to do a corrected resolution," Lankford said.

County Planner Joanne Garnett was interviewed Friday as well. She said, "It was a typo ... We checked with the clerk's office" to learn what to do.

"This was they way in which they (the clerk's office) said to change them," Garnett said. Garnett said after conferring with attorney Ed Wood, she learned the best way to handle the typo was to approve a corrective amendment, so the document was changed to its third version early last week.

"We're doing it as has been done with others in the courthouse," Garnett said. "We're not doing it any different."

Garnett also noted that a corrective amendment has been prepared for the county commission's approval. She said Larsen doesn't have the two additional acres the resolution states that he has.

"I understand clerical errors," Larsen said. "My issue is not with the acreage. An employee of Sublette County went into our recorded documents and altered a recorded document, instead of following due process."

Larsen said there is a specific process to be followed to amend a legal document "And whiteout isn't the solution."

"I have to do it the legal way, why don't they have to do it the legal way?" Larsen asked.

"Do we have to audit every single damned document in our courthouse?" Larsen questioned. "Has it been done to someone else? The point is there is a legal way to do this."

Sublette County Attorney Van Graham was asked his view on altering a recorded document. He said: "I don't think you can do it. You correct it with a second record that corrects the error."

Larsen is scheduled to discuss the issue with the commission at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

So has it happened before?

Yes, according to Lankford, the same situation has occurred at least once prior to now. She said in that case, the landowner discovered the typographical error shortly after the resolution was approved. The typo was then corrected in the same manner, Lankford said.

To the Examiner's knowledge, the zoning office has also been accused of altering of a document on one prior occasion. In 1996 Sheri Nolan received a building permit that she posted in the window during new house construction, as legally required. The zoning office later sent Nolan an alleged copy of her building permit along with a letter threatening fines of up to $100 per day for non-compliance with certain requirements. The problem was that the copy of the permit was an altered copy, with new requirements that had been added to the permit. When Nolan put up a fuss about the altered document, zoning dropped the issue, Nolan said. This incident occurred prior to Garnett's administration.

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