Republican candidates Bob Bednar and Marty Blumenthal may have spent more time talking about what would happen if there was no Lake County Recorder of Deeds at Sunday's candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lake County (LWV) at the University Center in Grayslake.
Bednar, who just recently moved to Mundelein, was elected as a write-in candidate for the Lake Bluff Park District Board in 2003. Since 1992, he has been active with Lake County Republican Party, been a committeeman in Shields Township and Vernon Township the last six years. He is also the treasurer of the Lake County Republican party.
Blumenthal, of Highland Park, has been elected as Precinct committeeman for Moraine Township from 1996 to the present. He is an attorney and a CPA, practicing for the past 30 years in Lake County and collar counties as well.
The candidates answered questions drawn from the LWV, the Daily Herald and audience members. Here is a cross-section of those questions and their responses.
- Should the office be combined with the county clerk’s office?
"This is something I’ve paid a lot of attention to. I formed a referendum committee made up of ordinary citizens from across the county, people in 16 townships, and we’ve already met. We’ve looked at a lot of facts and figures. Eighty-six of the 102 counties in Illinois do not have a recorder of deeds. In fairness, in some of those counties, it never happened. They don’t have a population exceeding 30,000 and were never required to create the job. However, in 2001, Tazwell County eliminated their recorder of deeds with 65 percent saying yes to combine it with the county clerk’s office. McLean County (Bloomington-Normal) is doing it this year – the question is on their ballot, and it’s also going on in Kendall County this year on their ballot. There is a cost savings. This is an administrative function that blends very well into the clerk’s office. I am a proponent of this."
"I did consider in the beginning when I decided to get into the race. I had a meeting with current county clerk Willard Helander about this, and whether she would want the additional duties, and she said, 'Yes, bring it on.' The other aspect is that there is a legal question whether we can do it or not. The statue pretty much says counties over 60,000 population have to have a recorder. I’m not sure about the procedure. That can’t be done until the office is made more efficient so the clerk could just turn a key and start the recording function."
- Is there technology that would improve the flow of business in the recorder’s office, and provide easier access to the public? What would the return on investments be?
"There is technology. I have contacted other recorder offices to find out who did their website and contacted the companies. Two of the companies were familiar with the Lake County website and knew the company that established it. The cost would not be great. One company said it would probably be $70,000 - $80,000 to do what I want to do. Compared to the million dollar budget it has now, it’s a very small percentage and would pay for itself in no time with increased efficiency."
"The first thing is consider two facts. Is it economical to leave it the way it is? I want to see more input from voters. Why have the other counties gone ahead and eliminated the office. The counties that have put it on their ballot where they have blended these offices, not one has ever turned back. Cook County is talking about this, too. Even if you only eliminated the recorder of deeds position, you are talking a six figure savings, plus the perks, the fringes, and all the other expenses associated with the office. This office works off user fees. People pay a fee when they record a document. It is a cash cow to the county. Why not make it as efficient as possible. There is technology to do it when we flip it over to the clerk’s office."
- Assuming there is a recorder of deeds office, what changes in office operations before it gets folded into a different department do you propose to improve transparency and public access?
"You have to break the office down into its components. There is a treasury function that happens when folks walk in, they are writing a check and getting the document done. Title companies, the legal offices, they send somebody over there at the end of the day with whatever documents they have. Title companies, you have a high volume. When you look past the treasury function, then you have record storage and retrieval. There is also overhead, management of personnel, the establishment of what is the appropriate cover time for the counter, but also technology of documents being scanned and put into the system. All of that would have to be integrated in steps. I think you break it down into about a half a dozen steps over a two-year period."
"The first issue is public access addressed by my drive for upgraded technology. So you can search for a document from your home or office computer without going into Waukegan. The second step is to have the high volume filers, such as the title companies, be able to record documents from their own offices. That would save personnel time at the recorder’s office and fulfill the goal of getting those documents recorded as quickly as possible to prevent property fraud."
- Assuming one of the candidates takes the office and the office remains, what are your top two priorities for improvements?
"Upgrading the technology to increase public access to the records, and see financial information on the website as to how the recorder deeds office operates as to fees coming in and expenditures going out. Right now you have to file a FOIA to get that information. I tried when I decided to run for the office. I had to get the information from the county. I could not find it on the county’s website or the recorder’s website."
"According to the 2012 budget for Lake County, the recorder estimates that they will record 122,000 documents this year. They have a full-time staff of 16, one part-timer. If you do the math, you roughly have 240-245 days you are open. If you divided an eight-hour day into the number of documents, you don’t get many documents recorded per day per employee. There has to be some streamlining that can be done. You have people dedicated to treasury components and those dedicated to the recording functions. If there is a gear up that happens at the end of the day where large volumes are suddenly coming in the last two hours, then you gear up for that. You don’t pay someone for six hours waiting for some work to be done."
- Why are you the best candidate for the job?
"I have the experience, the know-how, not only in Lake County but across the state and the country. I know what has to be done. I know what the title companies and banks have on their wish list for the internal operations of the recorder’s office in Lake County. It’s my goal to implement those changes as quickly as possible."
"I spent more than 20 years in the mortgage industry. I tracked down a lot of deeds. You don’t have to be an attorney to work with deeds, to work with the recorder’s office or to be the recorder of deeds. You don’t have to be an attorney to be the clerk of Lake County. This is purely an administrative function. This is something that citizens need. My plan in consolidating this into the clerk’s office takes that into mind. I want to have the voter’s voice on this and get a referendum on the ballot in November."