Recorder of Deeds Karen A. Yarbrough comes before the voters of Cook County seeking re-election, standing on her record of success in cutting costs while improving services, and on the achievements attained by focusing on the Office’s mission of “Accuracy, Efficiency, and Advocacy.”
A former state legislator, Karen has a B.A. in Business Management from Chicago State University, an M.A. in Inner City Studies from Northeastern Illinois University, and advanced leadership studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Karen and her husband, Henderson, have a blended family of six and share twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In late 2012, Yarbrough inherited an office under federal hiring oversight, a place in dire need of leadership and a culture change. She put together a strong executive team that immediately got to work laying the foundation for a turnaround. An employee training center was established to help four generations of workers improve crucial computer skills. A new employee Policy and Procedures Manual was created, alongside a commitment to fair and consistent application of the policies. An independent internal employment compliance Director was hired to help the administration meet compliance benchmarks. A new website helped more residents than ever know why the Recorder’s Office is so important and how to use its services.
A FOCUS ON FIGHTING FRAUD
Utilizing her background as a former state legislator, Yarbrough quickly passed three new state laws that shifted the balance of justice towards victims of scams where property ownership is fraudulently transferred or fake liens are placed on homes to cause economic harm. She created a process for expedited review of clearly fraudulent documents by an administrative law judge, a process that does not require the victim to incur the expense of an attorney. Yarbrough also shifted internal resources to provide more staff in the Property Fraud Unit, which allowed the Office to go on the offensive on behalf of victims. In 2015, CCRD’s top four priority fraudsters were arrested and charged with crimes.
When she took office, the Free Property Fraud Alert – a software tool that checks all documents recorded in a day and notifies registrants by phone or email if any of them affect their property – had only signed up 500 subscribers. Yarbrough asked top CCRD staff to volunteer their times on nights and weekends to attend community events and property tax seminars and enroll Cook County residents in the free program. By the end of 2015, Yarbrough and her team grew the subscriber list to over 40,000, enough to become number one out of 170 counties across the nation offering the same program.
Yarbrough’s focus on changing state laws to help property owners fight back against fraud has earned the Office national recognition. She and top staff have attended and presented at national land records and government service association conventions on how to prevent fraud within a legal framework where all documents that meet the minimum standards must be recorded.
SERVING COOK COUNTY VETERANS
Many residents are unaware that the County Recorder’s Office is an official repository for military veterans’ most important document, their DD-214 discharge record. Safeguarding it permanently in the Recorder’s Office, where it is not available for public inspection, means that a veteran’s family can always know where to obtain a certified copy in case the veteran is incapacitated or the family is trying to secure the honor of a full military funeral.
The Recorder’s Office, however, only has those discharge records that were voluntarily tendered, and only a few veterans a month were coming in to record. Yarbrough first dedicated a staffer solely to serving customers who are veterans, then opened a Veterans Welcoming Center where guests can avoid standing in line and be served in a place decorated to honor military service. Yarbrough then began sending staff to veterans’ resource fairs and veterans’ hospitals to promote CCRD’s Veterans Services.
But it wasn’t until she worked to create the Cook County Military and Veterans Discount Program, a network of almost 200 businesses across the county – from cafes to attorneys’ offices – that agreed to provide a year-round discount to veterans bearing an ID card obtained from CCRD. In one year and three months, over 5,000 veterans have obtained a Discount Card from Yarbrough’s office, and also important to note, DD-214 filings are up over 400 percent.
BUILDING A LAND RECORDS SYSTEM FOR THE FUTURE
CCRD’s current land records software platform is over 10 years old and in dire need of replacement. During the process of planning for this change, Yarbrough has placed a priority on future-state advancements that will ensure the new system can last a decade or more while saving money through efficiencies. Part of that shift towards the next generation includes a shift to “e-recording,” which allows customers to paperlessly submit their documents for recording without having to visit an office. In 2015 Recorder Yarbrough officially e-recorded the Office’s first deed, and has tasked staff with moving forward with new technological changes that will allow nearly 100% of documents to be recorded electronically.
CUTTING SPENDING &PROMOTING EFFICIENT USE OF RESOURCES
Yarbrough made all these changes and service improvements not by requesting additional funding from the County Board, but instead by utilizing smart workforce and workflow management that allowed employee headcount to decrease through attrition. All aspects of every task were analyzed in a search for redundancy and inefficiency, and the Office is currently using this information and approach to design a new core recording software and hardware system that is prepared for the coming shift from paper to electronic recording, and ready for a time when document volume could again surpass one million per year. These efforts to streamline service delivery have allowed the office to reduce its budget, most notably the reduction of 10% from 2015 to 2016.
WHY RECORDER YARBROUGH IS RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION
Yarbrough is running for re-election because from day-one she has focused on the long-term success of the Office, and now that this focus has shown results, she is committed to ensuring that multi-year projects to position the Office for the next generation of land records management continue.
She is running so that more residents will be educated on how the office works and why an open land records system is vital to helping regular Americans own property.
She is running to educate the people on how that open system leaves all property owners vulnerable to fraudulent recordings.
She is running because she is committed to seeing the Office, and Cook County, do more to serve veterans.