OPINION COLUMNS

Explaining the importance of the county surveyor position

By Davey Edwards | Published Saturday, August 18, 2012

In reference to the latest article published Aug. 11, 2012, in the Wise County Messenger “Survey Says “, I would like to weigh in on the subject of the usefulness of the county surveyor’s position.

It is true that more than 40 years have passed since there has been an elected professional land surveyor that has held this position in Wise County. At that time, most unpatented lands here had been granted and the office was not as busy as it once was, but these were not the only items found in the survey books.

There have also been surveys that reflect boundary line agreements, correction surveys, and even subdivisions that needed a place to be recorded for the public. Plat records came later that the county clerk maintained, and now the only plats that can be recorded in these records have to follow the rules and regulations of the governing entity and have to be approved by the same.

Even though the recordation of these additional surveys is not the statutory requirement, the county surveyor knew the importance of these and found a way to make the information public, which was through the surveyor books.

The article interviews each county commissioner and the county judge about why they brought the proposition to abolish the county surveyor’s position at this time. I find it interesting that not one of them have brought any fact to their reasoning, only their opinion. They all “think” that there is no need since the position has been vacant all these years.

However, the information in these records has never been more important until now because of the ever increasing rules being placed on having things recorded in the county records imposed by the commissioners’ court and whoever is in charge of reviewing the accuracy of the surveying information contained within the plats that are being recorded.

It is unfortunate that poor legal descriptions contained within the plats perpetuate inaccuracies to the original surveys. These surveys are now approaching 200 years since being originally surveyed. Surveyors are charged with following in the footsteps of the original surveyor, being the surveyor that laid out the original survey from the sovereign.

Over the last century these original survey markers, and their accessories, have been destroyed and obliterated but have not been lost. They can be perpetuated through proper surveying reconstruction using the records contained in the surveyor books. In decades past, the previous administrations that governed Wise County worked with the surveyors of this county to make sure that what was recorded and what should be recorded was done with the utmost respect to the records that were being maintained in the county surveyor’s absence.

But now that certain issues with original land grants are being discovered, statutory law is being ignored by filing of these records in the general records just because they are easily recorded digitally. This does not maintain the surveyor records as required by statutory law from their custodian in the county surveyor’s absence. Even if the office is abolished, it does not exclude this responsibility to those books.

Whether or not there has been a need for the position is immaterial to the future of the surveyor books. The past surveyors and county administration, not to mention the citizens of the county, knew the importance of well-kept records. Those that used the records most were those that were most familiar with them, surveyors. Then who better to maintain those records? By abolishing this seat, those records are going to be frozen in time, to never be maintained or used, and possibly forgotten and lost.

One commissioner states that these records are “in Austin, but they are available. It’s not like they are at the bottom of a pit.” There are millions of records at the General Land Office in Austin; however, this does not mean that every set of field notes are in those patents. Ben Thomson, former survey director of the General Land Office, said that he spent years having to go to the county surveyor’s books all over the state of Texas to make copies of those field notes that were missing from these patents in Austin. Those field notes that are filed at the General Land Office are transcribed copies of the original survey notes at the county in the surveyor books. This would probably hold more precedence in a court of law if there were discovered to be differences between the county records and the General Land Office records. Then are the records contained in the surveyor books important? Yes.

Lastly, I find it interesting that less than two years ago when I sought the approval of each commissioner, they all thought it would be a good idea for the position. They even suggested being an adviser to the commissioners’ court and reviewing plats for surveying issues such as original surveys perpetuations. Now, three of the four commissioners have completely turned face without full understanding of the position and their responsibility. By statements like “I don’t believe there are that many holes,” “maybe we don’t need one,” “I feel like right now it’s not something that we need,” “I don’t understand the position,” and “I don’t know how good the records are being kept,” leads me to believe that by the county officials exercising their constitutional right in abolishing a position within the county that they stated they “don’t understand” are being narrow-minded and are not letting the position even have a chance to work.

There may not be a lot of work for this position in their eyes, but what does that matter, there is no budget other than the books, office within the county seat and a phone that would preclude the commissioners from the county surveyor’s “workload.” Since there is not statutory salary attached to the position, it is basically a “voluntary” office, which would make for a better official since there will be no arguing over who, and how much an official will get for a raise next year.

I do agree that the citizens of the county should have a say in the way their county is being managed. That is why they voted the county judge and commissioners into their positions. A leader of the county is to make the everyday decision of the county’s best interest. It is already clear that the leader of this county does not know the position of the county surveyor by the comments in this article, yet he finds it threatening enough to research a way to eliminate it since he was not going to recommend appointment previously.

So, how does he know if the position being abolished is in the best interest of the county? He claims it should be left to the voters of the county, but we do not do that with every position nor is this being a leader of the county. Now that there is someone qualified and willing to step forward and actually “volunteer” to do the honorable, constitutional, historical, official position, the leader underhandedly “rips the carpet out from under” the candidate.

The proposition will be placed on the ballot, and the county officials cannot retract their decision and will move on without remorse. It is now paramount that the voters of the county be educated to the position and its importance so that they can make an educated vote in the general election in November. By using social media, a Facebook page has been created that will have posts about surveying and the county surveyor’s position and responsibilities. You can “like” the page at www.facebook.com/WiseCountySurveyor.

Edwards is a candidate in the November general election for Wise County surveyor. He is a professional land surveyor in Texas and Oklahoma, a licensed state land surveyor for the Texas Land Commissioner and a certified federal surveyor for the U.S. Department of Interior. He has a master of science in geospatial surveying engineering and is a third year doctorate student in geosciences with emphasis in cadastral systems.

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