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Tom Leatherwood

History

Tom Leatherwood is the current Shelby County Register of Deeds. He won a special election in November 2000 to serve the remainder of the late Mr. Guy Bates' term. Tom Leatherwood was born and raised in Shelby County. He and his wife Melissa have four daughters.

When Tom became Register, all records were on microfilm. He implemented a new recording system, digitized records, and made the information available on a free access website. The website now includes property records, aerial photos and genealogical data.

In 2005, Tom Leatherwood worked to pass legislation allowing the Register's office to assume the responsibilities of Shelby County Public Records and Archives. Since then, the office has made several series of county records available online, including Shelby County births, deaths, marriages, local documentaries, and exhibits of photographs and audio recordings. He has also made the Tennessee State Vital Records databases of death, divorce and marriage records available. In 2006 Tom Leatherwood won the Society of Tennessee Archivists, Archival Advancement Award.

Mr. Leatherwood served two terms in the State Senate from 1992 to November 2000. He was Vice Chairman of the Education Committee and Vice Chairman of the General Welfare Committee. Tom fulfilled a campaign promise and did not run for a third term.

Tom earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the University of Memphis. After several years in the oil exploration industry, he fulfilled a life-long dream of world travel and spent fourteen months backpacking to approximately 25 countries. After this trip, Tom came back home with a great realization and appreciation of the many freedoms and blessings we enjoy in our nation. Tom then attained his teaching certificate from Middle Tennessee State University and taught in the Public Schools for eight years.

As Register, Tom Leatherwood has also reduced charges for services provided to customers. The office is fully funded by customer fees and does not use any county tax dollars. Mr. Leatherwood's office has turned over excess revenue each year to help the county.

Joe Reves served as Shelby County Register from September 25, 2000 to November 20, 2000. Joe was appointed by the Shelby County Commission after the death of Mr. Guy B. Bates.

Joe Reves started his career with Shelby County Government in March 1971. He originally worked in the Shelby County Public Records Department, microfilming various county records including old real estate records from the Shelby County Register's Office. In 1972 he came to work in the Register's Office as a Deputy Register and in 1983 he was promoted to Assistant Chief Deputy. In 1986, Joe became Guy Bates' Chief Administrative Officer upon the retirement of Tom Marbry. Mr. Reves currently serves as Chief Administrative Officer for Tom Leatherwood. He has overseen many improvements in the 30 years he has served in the Register's Office. Joe's depth of knowledge about the Register's Office and the laws that govern the requirements for recordation make him an invaluable asset to customers.

Joe is married to Robbie and they have one son, Justin. Mr. Reves graduated from Overton High School in 1969 and attended Memphis State University. Mr. Reves was an active member of the Memphis Jaycees and served on the board of directors from 1978-1982. He was also a member of the Memphis Kiwanis for several years. Mr. Reves has volunteered his time to numerous organizations such as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the old St. Peter's Orphanage, Home for the Incurables, West Tennessee Soccer Association, Special Olympics, Heart Association and Camp Discovery. Joe and Robbie attend Germantown Baptist Church and are currently members of Merton Avenue Baptist Church.

Guy Bates was County Register from July 3, 1961 to July 25, 2000. He was appointed by the old Shelby County Quarterly Court to finish the term of Francis Andrews, who had died.

Mr. Bates had quite a political background beginning in the 1950's during the era of former Memphis Mayor Edward H. "Boss" Crump. He served as city research director and administrative assistant for Mayor Watkins Overton in the 1950's. Later Mr. Bates was appointed a collector of delinquent taxes working under Riley Garner, Trustee. He was elected Shelby County Register in 1962. He was re-elected nine times and served a total of 39 years.

When Mr. Bates took office in 1961 there were 35 employees making hand written entries and they were six months behind. He was very instrumental in automating the Register's office. This allowed them to eliminate the backlog while keeping up with their daily work. Mr. Bates and Judge Kenneth Turner were very instrumental in pushing for the creation of Shelby County's first data processing department. Mr. Bates was known for his frugality in the operations of his office and had articles published about him in the Commercial Appeal citing his close watch on the dollar.

Mr. Bates was a graduate of Columbia Military Academy and received a degree from Southwestern College, now known as Rhodes. He was a past Post Commander of American Legion #1, a World War II and Korean War veteran, Chairman of the Commercial Appeal's Mile-of-Dimes for over 20 years and past member of the board of St. Jude Children's Hospital.

The following article was written by Mr. Bates in 1965 for The American City.
It describes how the office functioned at that time.

Modern is the word for the recording process now operating in Shelby County, Tennessee. Our system blends data processing, microfilming and hard copy printout into a smooth recording operation. The net result is improved efficiency, better record control, and cost-cutting economies.

Tennessee law requires the retention of all legal instruments in hard-copy form for at least ten years. In the past we met this requirement by making cumbersome copies of these document. Then we had these bound in massive volumes, each of which held 641 pages. The process proved expensive and was laborious and time-consuming.

Now a resident who desires to record an instrument may present it at our service counter. Upon payment of the recording fee, we date and time-stamp the document and affix the proper tax stamps. Next, we enter the document in the daily log, sort it by type and assign it a book and page number. A form lists this data for the guidance of our microfilming department. A typical day's work will generate from 400 to 800 records.

After 3:00 p.m., we deliver the documents to our microfilming staff. They record and process these papers on 35mm microfilm. We have access to these the following morning.

The microfilming process consists of running one positive film and three negative copies. We have the positive roll cut into strips of 10 exposures or pages of documents. These are placed in acetate jackets, three strips to a jacket, and filed for easy reference. This step prepares us for the day when microfilm recording becomes legal.

The file cabinets each contain 16 trays of reference film. The jackets line the tray so that their 56 title strips remain visible. We can even identify individual images readily by referring to the large index numbers recorded on the microfilm.

Should the need arise; we have two viewers for use by county personnel. The public also has access to these units at no cost. It takes but a few seconds to flip through the files, remove the desired strips and project them on the viewer. And the files require only a fraction of the space needed to house our bound volumes of hard copies.

We distribute the three negative rolls of film as follows. The county department having jurisdiction over a particular set of documents receives one roll. We set aside another roll for permanent storage and security measures. Title companies or other private agencies may purchase the third roll for a nominal fee.

Also, in order to comply with the state law, we place one roll of film on our Xerox 1824 Printer. This machine produces a full-size paper print of the documents from the film for a few cents per page. This becomes the official recorded copy.

Following the microfilming operation, we turn the original documents over to the data-processing section. Here, an electronic accounting machine card is prepared for each instrument. Coded into some 78 categories, the data-processing equipment automatically cross-indexes the documents. Using these cards, we can prepare a monthly cumulative record of all documents. This gives us a complete year-end cross-index by document, type, name and date recorded.

Normally, we operate on a cycle of about three days. This includes the running of the data card, microfilming the documents and providing a hard copy for the official record. However, should a resident request special service, we can provide almost "instantaneous recording."

In such case, we make a copy of the instrument on a Xerox 914 Copier. Then we use the copy to process the record through the system. This allows us to return the original right away.