WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Recorder-elect Joe Tirio watched last Tuesday’s election results with what he called an “otherworldly” detachment – after months of running around and campaigning, all that was left was to sit and watch the returns.
“I had run out of things to do. It was a bit odd,” Tirio said.
But now that the voters gave Tirio the job, he has a lot to do, with the ultimate goal of putting himself out of a job after one term by eliminating the elected position and folding the office into that of the county clerk.
Tirio, a Republican from Woodstock, bested Democratic candidate Lynn Gray with 58 percent of the votes, according to unofficial vote totals. Before that, he prevailed in a three-way March GOP primary in the wake of the news that Recorder Phyllis Walters, who had held the office for more than three decades, was retiring.
His campaign pledge – eradicating an elected office altogether – apparently resonated with overtaxed voters, and made an interesting race out of one that typically is anything but. The county recorder’s office is responsible for recording, retrieving and maintaining land records and real estate transactions, subdivision plans, military discharge certificates and other records. It has 3.4 million documents on file dating back to the county’s 1839 founding with its current borders.
Tirio said just as important to him as eliminating the elected position is making the office itself the envy of the state if voters decide to fold it into the clerk’s office.
“I want it to be a high-performance office. I want the McHenry County Recorder’s Office to be the benchmark against which other recorders’ offices measure themselves,” Tirio said.
Eliminating the elected position must be done by voter referendum. If voters approve a referendum either next year or in the 2018 midterms, the office will disappear in 2020.
Most of the state’s 102 counties have a combined clerk and recorder’s office because state law requires a county to have at least 60,000 people to separate them. But voters in several of the Illinois counties that had created two separate offices have opted in recent years to merge them as modern technology made it more feasible, and rising tax bills more practical.
Voters eliminated the recorder’s office in 2011 in Tazewell County, in 2012 in McLean County and in 2014 in Peoria County. In Cook County, voters last Tuesday voted to do the same by a two-thirds margin.
There are 17 separate recorder’s offices statewide, according to records.
Tirio said he will spend the first few days after his Dec. 5 swearing-in meeting with staff and with leaders of other departments, and after that, he will start looking at the recorder’s staff, its operations and how performance is measured. Should voters decide to abolish the office, he said the recorder’s department will exist best as its own entity within the hierarchy of the county clerk’s office.
Tirio has said he anticipates that the County Board will vote to put the question on the ballot. As for a referendum’s timing, Tirio has not ruled out asking the County Board to place it on the ballot for the April 4, 2017, consolidated election, but acknowledged that such a time frame may be “too ambitious.” The deadline for local governments to put a referendum on that ballot is Jan. 17.
Should the County Board balk, state law allows voters to collect signatures to force the question to a referendum.
One program Tirio wants to enact is an honor rewards program – which several other recorders’ offices provide – that thanks veterans who file their discharge papers with the office by giving them cards good for discounts at participating local businesses. He also wants to use his office to tell veterans about the programs and services available to them.
“I’ve always appreciated what our people in uniform do for us,” Tirio said.
Tirio, who co-owns Monarch Senior Care in Woodstock with his wife, Karen, pledged to be a full-time recorder. He said his wife will assume most day-to-day operations, while he’ll pitch in during off hours.