Originally Published: April 16, 2014 || By Brian Slodysko, Chicago Sun-Times
Former Democratic state Rep. Karen Yarbrough has been Cook County’s recorder of deeds for little over a year.
But in that time, records show, Yarbrough has put one family member on the payroll and hired several people with political ties to her, as well as to her husband, former Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough.
Borrowing a legal argument crafted by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, Yarbrough claims in court papers that the county ethics ordinance–which bars the hiring of family members–doesn’t apply to her as an independently elected office holder.
What’s more, when Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard looked into the hires, the employees and ranking staffers lied to investigators and refused to cooperate, Blanchard said in a blistering report released Wednesday.
That comes after a federal monitor blasted Yarbrough’s office in December for a range of issues from consistently deficient hiring paperwork to suspicious interview and [employee] selection meetings.”
One example cited by the federal monitor: Yarbrough’s niece, Chloe Pedersen, who was brought on as $114,000-a-year executive assistant in December 2012, shortly after Yarbrough took office. Pederson, previously singled out in an inspector general’s report, refused to be interviewed or submit her personnel records for review.
A spokesman for Yarbrough’s office, which is subject to federal hiring oversight under a 1992 court order, declined to comment.
Blanchard’s latest report details three other questionable hires made by Yarbrough’s office.
In one instance, an employee hired as an executive assistant repeatedly denied knowing Yarbrough before she was hired. But when investigators showed evidence that Yarbrough attended the executive assistant’s wedding five months before she was hired, the assistant changed her story.
Blanchard recommended firing the executive assistant, but Yarbrough refused.
Blanchard’s report also claims political considerations were at play in the hiring of two other employees.
In both instances, the unidentified employees–as well as two unnamed “high ranking officials”–lied to Blanchard about the hiring process and refused to cooperate with the investigation, the report states.
In one case, Blanchard found a recently hired director had “strong political connections” to Yarbrough.
According to the federal court monitor, Yarbrough has employed creative ways to circumvent the court-ordered hiring process. In one case Yarbrough hired a candidate deemed the most qualified for a director’s job. She fired him several days later, which opened the job up for a candidate with political connections, according to the federal monitor.
In another instance, the federal monitor reported being “disturbed” by an interview panel’s “seeming bias” toward a particular candidate for security director.
That candidate? Maywood cop Tim Curry, appointed chief of police by Henderson Yarbrough in 2009.
After the monitor expressed concerns over the result, Yarbrough agreed to have candidates re-interviewed by a different panel; it came to the same conclusion.
Still, the monitor’s report found the panel’s actions were “potentially tainting the process in favor of a candidate with known political connections to the Recorder’s husband.” VFP