Obituary: Michael Cunniff, 63, Hennepin County records innovator

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2011 - 10:03 PM

The recorder/registrar of titles helped bring Hennepin County's documents into the computer age.

Michael Cunniff

Friends and colleagues described Michael Cunniff as a talented and likable manager, who combined an Irish humor with dedication to customer service during a 42-year career that included high-level positions in Hennepin County government.

Cunniff, Hennepin County's recorder/registrar of titles, died Nov. 29 of natural causes. He was 63.

"I have never experienced the depth or breadth of grief that spread through Hennepin County" with word of Cunniff's death, said Jill Alverson, the recently retired Hennepin County auditor-treasurer.

Cunniff's other county positions included deputy examiner of titles, deputy court administrator and director of community corrections.

"He did so many different things," said Michele Faherty of Bloomington, one of two daughters. "He kind of rose to the top wherever he went."

As recorder/registrar of titles, starting in 1998, Cunniff was a recognized innovator.

"The amount of recording had shot up because of the real estate boom," said Patrick O'Connor, a retired county auditor-treasurer. The county "had gotten so far behind in recording real estate documents. We were a real liability to the real estate community."

Rick Little, former deputy examiner of titles and a close friend, said Cunniff came up with a plan to hire 35 to 40 college students as temporary employees who worked in two shifts to digitize 175,000 certificates of title. They did the job in less than a year. "It took other counties literally years to do it," said Little. "It was a very daring and unprecedented program."

Cunniff also directed development of electronic recording of real estate documents. Subscribing customers are now able to access information via the Internet, giving the county an income stream of more than $1 million a year.

In 2006 he was named county recorder of the year in Minnesota and chaired the state Electronic Real Estate Recording Commission since its 2008 inception. He was vice president of the state County Recorders Association, and was to become president in 2012.

"We looked up to him as a mentor," says Lynn Ette Schrupp, McLeod County recorder and current president of the state association.

Cunniff had a business degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law. He met his wife, Patty, in grade school and they married in 1968. "We are left pretty devastated," she said. "He was a great man in our lives."

"My dad was extremely passionate about solving problems," says Maureen Nagle of Minneapolis, his other daughter.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Cunniff, who lived in Edina, is survived by his mother, Mary Jane; a brother, Robert; and four grandchildren. Funeral services have been held.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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