About Recorder Karen A. Yarbrough
“Accuracy – Efficiency – Advocacy”
Karen A. Yarbrough, Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Registrar of Titles, is a full-time administrator, overseeing a $12 million budget and 160 employees – the 2nd largest Recorder’s office in the United States. In that role, she has established herself as a national leader in the growing movement to change the office of county recorder from a place where property fraud happens, to a place where property fraud is confronted.
Yarbrough is a strong advocate for our nation’s open land records system, which allows regular people to easily acquire and finance property. In many countries that lack such a system, home and property ownership is impossible, and Yarbrough recognizes the important role her office plays in making America great.
While all the other countywide land offices in Cook are a part of the system to assess and collect property taxes, she is the only countywide advocate on behalf of property owners and home ownership.
In her first two years as Recorder, Yarbrough made fundamental changes to CCRD and the Office of County Recorder – adding advocacy to an office traditionally seen as a ministerial repository of documents. In addition to good stewardship of budgeted funds by doing more with less funding each year, she has made the Cook County Recorder’s Office a national model in the fight against property fraud. She advanced three laws through the legislature in 2013: Public Act 98-99 empowers county recorders to help property owners fight property fraud, and serves as model legislation for recorders across the country; Public Act 98-98 raises the penalty for knowingly filing false claims of interest or attempting to cloud a property title from a misdemeanor to a felony; and Public Act 98-29 requires Cook County notaries who validate transfers of property to maintain detailed records of each and forward them to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office.
In 2015, Recorder Yarbrough again went to the General Assembly to expand the protections and services offered by CCRD, advancing legislation to 1) allow individuals to utilize CCRD’s strong cybersecurity protections to digitally and privately store their last will and testament, 2) give new homeowners the chance to put an automated Property Fraud Alert on their home at the time of closing, and 3) allow her office to refuse certain fraudulent recordings meant to interfere with foreclosures that prevent communities from rebuilding.
HIGHLIGHTS OF FIRST TERM:
- Completely revamped CCRD Fraud Unit and brought national recognition to anti-fraud efforts
- Created innovative judicial review process to invalidate clearly fraudulent recordings at no cost to victim
- Ushered in technological advances that allow for e-recording of deeds for the first time ever
- Reduced headcount and spending; cut budget 10% from ’15 to ’16
- Sought performance and financial audits to increase productivity and efficiency
- Opened a Veterans Welcoming Center to assist those utilizing CCRD’s DD-214 storage program
- Registered over 40,000 residents for Free Property Fraud Alert; attended over 250 community events
- Launched Cook County’s most successful veterans program, the Military & Veterans Discount Card; over 5,000 vets signed up
- Made strong progress towards ‘substantial compliance’ with CCRD’s inherited Shakman obligations
- Led efforts to build the most open and transparent Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office to date
- Emphasized training and employee development to improve service to the public
Karen has a B.A. in Business Management from Chicago State University, an M.A. in Inner City Studies from Northeastern Illinois University, and advanced leadership studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Karen has served on numerous boards, enhancing the quality of life for citizens and has received many prestigious awards highlighting her advocacy, community service and legislative work.
Previously, Karen served as State Representative for the 7th District for 12 years, which included Chicago’s West-Side and western suburbs. As an Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois House of Representatives, her legislative themes were public health, public safety, and social justice. She has been a stalwart fighter to increase assistance for those incarcerated, and funding for programs that provide a “Second Chance.” In 2007, Karen successfully fought the tobacco lobby as the chief sponsor of “Smoke Free Illinois” and made Illinois the first Midwestern state to go “smoke-free.” She’s taken on powerful real estate interests in her pursuit of “source of income” legislation that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to those on subsidies. She sponsored “Quality of Life,” a bill using lottery money to fund groups that treat individuals with HIV-AIDS.
In 2011, Yarbrough, as chief House Sponsor helped make history by passing legislation to end the death penalty in Illinois. This legislation was signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn making it the 16th state to do so, earning her recognition from the Pope and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
Karen and her husband, Henderson, have a blended family of six and share twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.