The election for the otherwise mundane political office of McHenry County recorder has been made interesting by the question of whether it needs to continue to exist.
Republican candidate Joe Tirio is running to eliminate the office altogether, and make his first term his last. Democratic opponent Lynn Gray, on the other hand, calls that a bad idea. In essence, voters on Nov. 8 not only will decide who gets the job of recording and maintaining a number of county records, but also weigh in on the future of the position.
Tirio wants to merge the office with that of the county clerk, as has been done in several other counties with independent recorder’s offices. Both Tirio and Gray are running to succeed current Recorder Phyllis Walters, who is retiring after more than 30 years.
The recorder’s office is responsible for recording, retrieving and maintaining land records and real estate transactions, subdivision plats, military discharge certificates and other records. It has more than 3.4 million documents on file, and in 2012 finished electronically recording all documents dating to the county’s 1839 founding with its current borders.
Eliminating the office must be done by voter referendum. Tirio said he will convince the McHenry County Board to put the question on the ballot in 2018 – if it does not, he said, he will gather the signatures necessary to do so. Tirio, of Woodstock, defeated two GOP challengers in the March 15 primary, including Walters’ office supervisor.
“It’s really about the tax burden and responsible government. Abolishing the office is one way that I can help the people of McHenry County. It can be done, it should be done, I’m ready to do it, and it’s my intent to see that it is done,” said Tirio, who owns Monarch Senior Care, an in-home senior care service in Woodstock.
Gray, of Marengo, decided to enter the race after Tirio won the primary. A certified Illinois title professional with Fidelity National Title in Crystal Lake who has spent more than two decades using the recorder’s office before it put its land records online, Gray said merging the office with the county clerk would be a mistake that would end up costing more money than it saves.
“My opponent is proposing a radical change to an office that is highly important, and it seems he’s doing it in a willy-nilly way – he thinks that because some counties have dual offices, that we should, too,” Gray said.
Most Illinois counties have a merged county clerk and recorder position, because state law requires a minimum population of 60,000 to have separate offices. In recent years, voters in several Illinois counties with separate recorder’s offices have eliminated it as a cost-cutting measure, citing tremendous advances in computer and scanning technology.
Voters eliminated the recorder’s office in 2011 in Tazewell County, in McLean County in 2012, and in Peoria County in 2014. Voters in Cook County will decide in a referendum this election whether to abolish the office. Other counties with the requisite population, such as DeKalb and Kendall, still have a merged clerk and recorder office because their respective voters rejected splitting them in two.
There are a total of 17 independent county recorders in Illinois, according to state records.
If elected, Tirio said he will work closely with the county clerk’s office to ensure that the job can be done without hiring additional staff and negating any cost savings. The county clerk’s office handles birth, marriage and death certificates, and County Board records, contracts and ordinances on top of its other responsibilities of supervising elections and extending property taxes. Besides the recorder position itself, he said, the office will be slimmed down once he reviews the work flow and processes.
He said he will create a quality, streamlined operation to be handed over to the county clerk should voters approve a merger.
“I want to have the best-running operation – the place where vendors tell other recorders’ offices, ‘Talk to Joe Tirio in McHenry County, because they really have it down,’ ” Tirio said.
Gray said she will regularly review the office to improve efficiency, and seek out new technology to make recording and retrieving documents even easier and faster. She also said she will work closer with township officials and other governmental offices that rely on the recorder’s office.
“Phyllis Walters left big shoes to fill, but I think I’m just the woman to fill them,” Gray said.
Tirio has been active in recent years in creating and participating in anti-tax groups, most recently Illinois Tax Revolution, and helped craft an anti-nepotism ordinance that several township Republican central committees have adopted. Gray, an election judge, has served since 2012 on the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission.
The recorder’s office has 26.4 full-time equivalent employees – down by almost half from five years ago – and will cost $1.9 million this year against projected revenues of $2.6 million, according to the 2016 county budget. The recorder’s annual salary is $104,750, not counting benefits.