CHICAGO
07/17/2013 03:58 pm ET

Karen Yarbrough Hired Niece: Cook County Recorder Of Deeds Taps Relative For Lucrative Job

This story is courtesy of the Better Government Association:

Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough taps niece for six-figure job, amid other questionable hires.

Just when you thought Cook County was "ready for reform," the Better Government Association and FOX 32 learn that first-term Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough gave a plum six-figure job to her own niece.

And Yarbrough was unapologetic about the nepotism hire – or at least an aide was. Yarbrough wouldn’t directly discuss the matter.

"This person in question is very highly qualified, puts in a lot of hours each week and the taxpayers of Cook County are lucky to have someone like this person," says the aide, John Mirkovic.

"This person" is Chloe G. Pedersen, the niece in question. Yarbrough hired her as legal counsel in late 2012, just after taking over the recorder of deeds office, which is the holder of property records. Pedersen’s job comes with a salary of $114,000 a year.

The hiring came to light in a report released Monday by Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, who says Pedersen’s appointment violates the Cook County ethics ordinance against family hiring family.

Blanchard asked Yarbrough to fire her niece, but Yarbrough refused, saying the ethics ordinance doesn’t apply to her office – setting the stage for a potential court battle.

When asked if it’s good government to hire family members, Mirkovic responded, "Well, you’re trying to apply a one-size-fits-all standard, and sometimes the best person for the job like the one in question might be someone who is related."

But, Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider says it’s clear nepotism, the kind of business that gives Cook County government a black eye.

"It smacks of what went on in the county in the past, and we’re trying to get beyond that," Schneider says.

It’s not the first questionable hire by Yarbrough. Earlier this year, top aide and family friend Richella Goeloe was forced to resign from the recorder’s office after FOX and the BGA discovered she had a felony record for taking part in an armored car robbery.

Yarbrough also recently hired former Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry as her director of security. Curry has made campaign contributions to both Yarbrough and her husband – Maywood’s former mayor, Henderson Yarbrough, for whom Curry also has campaigned.

Federal court orders bar most kinds of patronage hiring, and "monitors" are appointed to review hiring decisions in the City of Chicago and Cook County governments.

County officials insist Curry went through normal apolitical channels, and the Yarbroughs have said they didn’t know Curry applied for the security job until the process was well underway.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Dane Placko of FOX 32. They can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or rherguth@bettergov.org.

Help the BGA shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable by becoming a member, contributor or tipster. Details at bettergov.org.

CONVERSATIONS