CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A former speaker of the New Hampshire House is running for a new office — by running against it.
Salem Republican Donna Sytek, who served 23 years in the House before retiring in 2000, signed up this week to run for Rockingham County register of probate. Her platform? Eliminate the obscure, essentially meaningless position.
“We have a title with hardly any responsibilities,” said Sytek. “I said, ‘That’s a job for me! I can do that!'”
In the past, registers of probate in each county oversaw the administration of courts that handled estates, name changes and adoptions and managed all estate records. After a 2011 reorganization to streamline the judicial system, the county probate, district and family courts were folded into the circuit court system, and the number of clerks was reduced from 52 to 18.
But because the state constitution requires the election of registers of probate, lawmakers retained the position, stripped away virtually all its responsibilities and set the annual salary at $100 per year — compared to the roughly $100,000 in salary and benefits the state paid to the full-time registers.
In 2014, a Dartmouth College senior won the Grafton County seat with 20 votes after his fraternity brothers launched an impromptu write-in campaign on Election Day.
Sytek is pushing for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the position. It takes a three-fifths vote of the Legislature and two-thirds vote by the electorate to amend the constitution.
“Voters ought to be given an opportunity to look at this and say whether this historical title that is now meaningless should be taken from the constitution,” she said. “When I tell people about this, they say, ‘What? There’s an office that has no responsibilities and pays $100 a year? Sign me up!'”
Under state law, a probate register’s only remaining duty is identifying historically significant documents and sending them to the state archives. In at least one county, the register has never even been to the courthouse, said longtime probate Judge David King. In other counties, the positions are held by former full-time registers who now work for the courts in other capacities.
Having the register of probate positions be elected didn’t make sense even under the old system, said King.
“It’s hard to run a court, when your clerks — which is really what the registers are — have to run for office every two years,” he said.
He said he has great respect for Sytek and hopes her effort succeeds.
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