Penny Rich: Over 20 Years of Experience and Service to Orange County


When people ask me why I am running for Orange County Register of Deeds, I remind them that I have been serving the community I love for over 20 years and believe that government services have to match the expectations of our residents. If they don’t, we need to fix them. 

I moved to Chapel Hill in 1998 from New Orleans to follow a job opportunity. Before moving, I tried to navigate the Chapel Hill website and it kept crashing. I called and spoke to the clerk who explained that the site was going through an overhaul, but maybe she could answer some of my questions! Wow! That was a first for me. I said to myself, “Maybe this move to Chapel Hill is going to be better than I thought.” Before hanging up, Ms. Oliver asked if I would like to apply to the town’s technology advisory board. I was confused because I wasn’t a resident yet and was being asked to join a board. She sent me an application, I filled it out, and by the time I arrived in the fall of 1998, I was appointed to my first board in Orange County! 

I had earned a master’s degree from New York University in Communications Technology so this board was a good fit and was my introduction to local politics. In 2001, I was appointed by the Town of Chapel Hill to the OWASA board of directors where I served two 3-year terms (2001-2007). In 2001, Orange County experienced a one-hundred-year drought. This was a major crisis. I stepped up and proved that I was able to provide the leadership needed to get us through this historic drought. We needed to create year-round water conservation policies, not wait until we were in a crisis. As co-chair of the Natural Resources and Technical Systems (NRTS) committee, I rose to the challenge and I am pleased to say that some of the policies created in 2002 remain in place today. 

In 2009 I was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council. This exciting new elected position allowed me to use my experiences in creating policy and the budget process on a larger scale. I dug into land use, planning, community design and public transit. I learned more about our affordable housing crisis and began to take interest in economic development, tourism and creating good-paying jobs. I remained connected to OWASA’s water conservation policy and stepped into a position on the Sustainability, Energy and Environment committee focusing on climate change. In addition, I served on the Justice in Action committee, Partnership to End Homelessness and the Historic Rogers Road Task Force, where I tackled issues through a social justice lens.

In 2012 I was elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners and served two terms 2012-2020 (chair 2018-2020). I dove head first into government services, understanding how important it was to gain the confidence in our community by providing top notch services. With the help of our department directors and colleagues, I began to dedicate my time to create an equitable government with a focus on serving our residents. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I led our COVID-19 response team as the chief elected official. Once again I stepped up in a time of crisis and tried to find ways to accommodate our residents even though we were in a shutdown. 

The Register of Deeds office is essential to county government. I want to step up and address the ongoing concerns of those who use the deeds office on a regular basis. A clumsy website, software that is a patchwork of the past, and interoffice software that fails regularly only adds to the backlog and frustration of our residents. I want to work with the Health Department and the Tax Office to help lead, be present, and collaborate to be more efficient. My vision for the ROD office is to make it a next-generation office using big bold ideas to update technology, improve the archival system, digitize all records and make them easily available online, create a space that will be a valued community resource, and engage with the public to make sure we are providing what is needed of our government office. With your vote on May 17th, we can make this happen together.

Penny Rich

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