Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough
Nine months after taking office, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough appeared in court last week to answer allegations of clout-hiring and patronage in the office.
Among the accusations, brought by veteran Chicago watchdog-attorney Michael Shakman, are that Yarbrough hired her niece as legal counsel at $114,000 annually; that she tried forcing out supervisors by reassigning them to far-flung outposts, to later hire her own cronies; solicited rank-and-file workers with text messages to their personal telephone numbers for campaign donations, received by accessing government personnel records; and hired political allies for jobs reserved for non-political personnel, according to Chicago Tribune reporting.
At least one of these charges is a union grievance. The county clerk administers vital records and suburban elections.
Shakman filed a motion in federal court earlier this month accusing the clerk of illicit patronage. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier is hearing the case and will decide if a federal monitor is assigned to Yarbrough’s office. A compliance monitor would oversee hiring and other personnel practices.
In the Sept. 11 hearing, Schenkier ordered Yarbrough to file a formal response within 30 days. Yarbrough has strongly denied the claims against her. The next hearing is on Oct. 31.
In her previous position as Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Yarbrough’s office was also under federal court oversight. Voters eliminated the recorder’s job in 2016. When her predecessor retired after 28 years and no court oversight, Yarbrough won an election to succeed him.
She took the oath of office as county clerk in December 2018.
The offices of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, the assessor and the Illinois governor’s office all operate with federal monitoring of their hiring practices to deter patronage, the Chicago Tribune said.