Clerk, recorder merger on Peoria County ballot

Chris Kaergard GateHouse Media Illinois

Peoria County voters will be asked Nov. 4 whether they want to combine two countywide offices, jettisoning one elected position in the process.

Proponents say that eliminating the independently elected office of recorder of deeds will create more efficient, lower-cost government, saving a nearly six-figure salary plus benefits each year while retaining the core work the office does.

Opponents say it’s a solution in search of a problem, eliminating a smoothly running position and creating uncertainty for employees with a plan that has yet to be fully spelled out.

The recorder’s function would not be eliminated if the referendum passes. The job duties would be given to the elected county clerk, who would become the clerk/recorder effective Dec. 1, 2016. That’s when the current recorder’s term ends.

County Board member Stephen Morris, a supporter, says that two-year window gives ample time to determine how the offices would be merged.

Incumbent Recorder Nancy Horton, however poses a simple question: “If it’s not broke, why are you trying to fix it? ... This isn’t about me and my job. This is about believing in keeping good government.”

This is not the first time the idea has been proposed. Two years ago, Morris called for putting the office — and that of the auditor — under the aegis of the county administrator, but a divided County Board demurred narrowly.

In Illinois, counties with populations below 60,000 have the offices combined. Those that grow larger have the option of splitting the posts, and most do. However, fast-growing suburban Kendall and DeKalb counties, as well as Jackson and Williamson counties in southern Illinois, have kept a joint position. Neighboring Knox County and Whiteside County near the Quad Cities have fallen below the 60,000 threshold, but retain separate offices.

The three counties that have elected to re-combine the offices are all in the central part of the state. In the past decade, Adams County brought the two back together, then was followed by Tazewell County and McLean County.

All three clerk/recorders say there have been savings, though they differ on the amounts and the efficiencies.

From Quincy, Georgia Volm says that her County Board hasn’t been willing to spring for the funds — or a combined office space — needed to realize maximum efficiency.

Neither Christie Webb in Pekin nor Kathy Michael in Bloomington have the clerk and recorder offices in the same suite, but both say they’re just a stairwell away and that they’ve had no problems with geography. For Peoria County, the current clerk’s office is on the first floor, while the recorder works out of the ground floor immediately below.

Cross-training for clerk and recorder employees hasn’t been successful in Adams County, whereas there have been successes in both Tazewell and McLean, allowing the latter two counties to more efficiently cover vacations — as well as busier times like elections, Michael said.

Horton, though, has questioned whether or not cross-trained employees still learning the ropes might end up stumbling when working both with ordinary members of the public and more regular users at title companies and law firms.

A post-consolidation survey looking into that question found users of the office in McLean County generally


The savings numbers, too, are up in the air. Morris initially estimated that up to $175,000 per year could be saved by eliminating both the elected recorder post and that of chief deputy recorder. But the other counties have only been able to eliminate the elected post, and have needed to keep a “supervisor” position in place of the chief deputy.

“The goal is (cutting both salaries), but even if we only get half, it’s still a pretty good deal, still with over six-figure savings,” he said.

A simple majority of voters on the referendum question is required for it to pass.