Local notary seeks guidance

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Alabama notaries like Lavergne Manuel have a question about their profession, the first stop is the Code of Alabama, which lists and describes some of the powers granted to all notaries.

But, as Manuel explains, finding a definitive answer can sometimes be a challenge.

Manuel said that these guidelines are basic and aren’t of much use to most notaries.

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“All we have are statutes and they call this our handbook,” he said.

When Manuel doesn’t find the answer there, it’s off to the Secretary of State’s office, the office in charge of all notaries.

But in Manuel’s experience, that hasn’t helped much either.

“When I have called and talked to Jean Brown, Beth Chapman’s chief legal advisor, I have never gotten an answer that helps things,” Manuel said.

This situation direly speaks to the need for an Alabama manual for all notaries, Manuel said, one that would spell out clearly the duties and responsibilities of Alabama notaries.

“We need a handbook that can define what we can do and how we can do it,” Manuel said. “Then, we wouldn’t have to call the secretary of state’s office every time a question arose.’

Emily Thompson, chief of staff for Beth Chapman, said the secretary of state’s office has made progress in regards to notaries.

“Beth Chapman has done more than any other Secretary of State as far as making sure notaries have the information they need,” Thompson said.

While a Notary Handbook may be the answer, Thompson said it is best for the office to answer questions received on case-by-case basis. Since the Secretary of State’s office is not charged with the task of interpreting laws, Thompson said all they have to work from is the Code of Alabama.

“We get a lot of questions, and we give the best advice we can with what we have,” Thompson said.

Thompson cited progress in the form of last year’s Alabama notary conference, the first notary conference ever held in Alabama, which had over 2,000 notaries attending. This year, a second notary conference has been scheduled for October 21.

Although organizers claimed participants gained valuable knowledge from the conference, Manuel said he and his fellow notaries had a different take on the summit.

“It was interesting, but those of us who have been notaries didn’t learn anything,” Manuel said.

All the information delivered by the speakers at this conference is available for reference online, Thompson said.

The conference featured a representative from the National Notary Association, who handed out a “Best Practices” pamphlet.

“The book is good for general principles and practices, but it isn’t specific to Alabama,” Manuel said.

Some other states have their own notary manuals, Manuel said, and the NNA lists Florida, California and Colorado as having some of the best examples of how such a document could be organized. Everything from how to become a notary to a notary’s duties could be featured in this book, Manuel said, which would standardize the field.

Manuel also envisions a centralized complaint center, where notaries could file complaints about non-payment to protect other notaries from working for such a firm.

Currently, Manuel is in the process of arranging a meeting with Secretary of State Beth Chapman. He is seeking any notaries who wish to become involved in a quest to regulate and define notaries in Alabama. He can be reached by email at lmanuel@camelliacom.com.

“What affects notaries affects the whole state of Alabama,” Manuel said. “How many people out their have never used a notary?”