By Dane Placko, FOX 32 News Investigative Reporter & the Better Government Association
Just when you thought Cook County was ready for reform, FOX 32 News and the Better Government Association have learned newly-elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough has given a plum six-figure job to her niece.
A smiling photo of Karen Yarbrough is as close as we came to the recorder of deeds at her office Tuesday. Yarbrough let her spokesman try to explain a hire that's landed her in hot water.
"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," John Mirkovic says, speaking on her behalf.
"This person" is Chloe G. Pedersen, who also just happens to be Karen Yarbrough's niece. Yarbrough gave Pedersen a $114,000 job as legal counsel just one day after taking over the recorder of deeds office in December.
That hire just came to light in a report released Monday by Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard, who says it 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.
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, Commissioner Tim Schneider says it's clear cut nepotism, the kind of business that gives Cook County 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 after FOX 32 and the Better Government Association 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 done political work and made campaign contributions to both Yarbrough and her husband--Maywood's former mayor--yet he got a job covered by the Shakman Decree which prohibits political hiring.