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Cook County recorder says merger not in best interests of Cook County

Saturday, July 02, 2016
Daily Herald
by Eric Peterson

Democratic Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough is unopposed for re-election this November, but she's suddenly in a fight for her political life.

Cook County voters will decide on the Nov. 8 ballot whether to eliminate the recorder of deeds office by merging it with the Cook County clerk.

The referendum question proposed by 12th District County Commissioner John Fritchey was put on the ballot by a 10-5 county board vote Wednesday. If it passes, a merger will be done by 2020.

Yarbrough said Friday she believes an independent land records office is vital to Cook County and said her office is not the "patronage-laden" office of years past.

"This office is not the office of yesterday," she said. "I only want good people to work here, who have the qualifications and are passionate about what they do."

The recorder of deeds keeps records of real estate transactions. Besides making changes that save money, Yarbrough said she's instituted modernizations that guard against fraud and made other changes to specifically help veterans.

Fritchey could not be reached for comment Friday. But fellow Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, whose 15th District includes the Northwest suburbs, said he's thought for years a merger of the recorder and clerk offices would be a boon for taxpayers.

Schneider believes a minimum $1 million per year could be saved by merging two offices that both focus on record keeping.

Schneider, who voted for putting the referendum question on the ballot, said there's nothing personal toward Yarbrough. In fact, she'd be a strong candidate for running for a merged office, he said.

"I think Karen Yarbrough has been a very competent recorder of deeds," he said. "She's initiated a number of programs that have strengthened the office."

The county board vote on the referendum split along racial lines: White members voted for it, black members voted against it. Cook County Clerk David Orr is white; Yarbrough is black.

Schneider said there are no racial overtones to this referendum. Yarbrough said it's not an argument she's going to make.

"I was kind of taken aback by that," Yarbrough said of the racial allegations raised. "I served with John Fritchey in Springfield."

She said she's unclear on Fritchey's motivations and expected him to be better informed about the need for an independent recorder's office. She is also concerned that voters will eagerly embrace the idea of saving money without being aware of the reforms she says she has enacted that have saved $2.2 million over four years.

Yarbrough, a Democrat like Orr, added she hasn't ruled out running for a combined office in four years if the merger is approved. For now, though, she said she will focus on making the argument that a merger would not be in the best interests of Cook County.



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