Work on merger of Lake County recorder of deeds, clerk offices to begin in January

Lake County residents voted overwhelmingly this month to eliminate the recorder of deeds office and merge it with the county clerk’s office, leaving the two women who run those offices to figure out how best to do that.

Recorder Mary Ellen Vanderventer, a Waukegan Democrat who's held the post since 1996 and was reelected
Nov. 3, said she does not expect the public to notice any dramatic change after her elected office ends.

The recorder’s office keeps real estate transactions, military discharge papers and other documents. The clerk’s office oversees elections and maintains birth, marriage and death records, as well as other documents.

Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor said her office has just finished canvassing for one election and now is beginning preparations for the consolidated primary election in February, so officials have not begun discussing the merger.

“I am excited to move forward with Ms. Vanderventer on merging two county departments,” O’Connor said. “It is important to create a sense of community and a collaborative culture through this process.”

Vanderventer said they likely will begin making merger plans in January.

“Both Robin and I are really good at sharing information, so I think one of the first things we do will be a FAQ sheet we’ll put on websites,” Vanderventer said of the merger. “The fun part will be keeping everyone in the loop about what to look for and what to expect.”

They have a while to work on it. The merger is required by Dec. 1, 2022.

In June, the County Board voted, 20-0, with one abstention – Vanderventer’s brother, Waukegan Democrat Bill Durkin – to put the merger question to voters, who backed the idea overwhelmingly, with 206,781 in favor and 96,067 opposed.

Proponents of merging the offices have said it could save money. Lake County spokeswoman Arin Thrower said in June that the potential savings essentially would be the recorder’s salary, which is about $127,874 annually.

Vanderventer backed the merger in her final reelection campaign. Her opinion has changed over the years; she opposed consolidation in her 2012 campaign and supported looking into a merger in 2016.

She said she later changed her mind after Cook County voters approved a merger in 2016.

More than 80 of Illinois' 102 counties have a combined recorder and clerk's office. That includes McHenry County, where voters overwhelming backed a measure to combine the two offices in 2018.

While Vanderventer’s 17-member staff would be managed by O’Connor when the offices merge, it isn’t clear whether the recorder’s staff physically would move to the same floor in the county building. Vanderventer used to be an employee in the clerk’s office, and she said that back then, the clerk’s staff was spread out on different floors, so she knows it can be done.

“There is really not enough room in the county building to put us all on one floor,” Vanderventer said of the staffs of the recorder’s and clerk’s offices. “In terms of space, we’ll just kind of have to make it work.”