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Elimination of Recorder’s Office debated by candidates

Bob Bednar Mundelecandidate for Lake County Recorder Deeds. | Special Sun-Times Media

Bob Bednar of Mundelein candidate for Lake County Recorder of Deeds. | Special to Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 22, 2012 1:56AM

The race for Lake County Recorder of Deeds could be a referendum on whether the office continues to bustle or sink into oblivion.

Lake County Recorder Mary Ellen Vanderventer, a born and bred Waukeganite and currently the only elected official in county administration who’s a Democrat, called a promised push by Republican challenger Bob Bednar of Mundelein, to eliminate the Recorder’s Office and transfer its duties to the office of the Lake County Clerk “a misplaced effort.”

The Recorder’s Office, which takes up an entire floor of the Lake County Building and stewards seven million documents is just too large, too busy, too vital to commerce and the keeping of stuff in perpetuity — mortgage documents, bills of sale, liens, quit claims, foreclosures, military discharge forms or DD-214s, even an occasional love letter — according to Vanderventer, to allow her opponent to “re-streamline” it “into a thin little layer of administration.”

Bednar, 56, who worked his way through college as a bank teller, then worked as a bank controller and mortgage lending officer, grew up in LaGrange Park. He is treasurer for the Lake County GOP. He helped Bob Cook get elected the group’s chairman. He is a past finance director for Congressman Joe Walsh. If elected, he will ask the Lake County Board to form an exploratory panel to consider his idea, which he said is gaining steam across the state in counties, including Tazwell and Kendall and that is expected to take hold in McLean.

But those counties are small in population compared to Lake County, where a populace of 700,000 makes ditching the recorder untenable, Vanderventer said.

“It’s working in Los Angeles (County, Calif.),” Bednar countered.

Recorder’s offices are “cash cows,” said Bednar. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a look on the expense side. That’s where the savings are. I’m a Republican. I’m about more efficient government.”

Bednar has done his homework on the place that he wants to help expunge for the alleged good of the taxpayer: $1.3 million, staff of 14 to 16, 126,000 documents recorded per year.

“I’m not flying arrows at Mary Ellen and I don’t have a grudge,” said Bednar, who holds a BS from Lewis University in Romeoville. “I think she’s been a good and decent public servant. But a revolution has happened with the ability to digitally record documents.”

Vanderventer, 57, who attended Columbia College in Chicago and has been active in community theater, defends her office as much more than a giant file cabinet.

“There are no taxes collected or used in the operation of this office,” she said. “We are one of the biggest revenue producers. We bring in millions.”

“It’s the keeper of history,” she said. The goal is to have a chain that is never broken. It’s called the chain of title. That’s what I am still passionate about. You can really get things at a moment’s notice with technology, but the fun part of my job is keeping the old-fashioned traditions alive — handwritten ledgers back to 1844, back when books were bartered for vegetables and land for horses.”

“There is no good research to show that jettisoning the recorder in favor of another office amounts to a significant cost savings,” Vanderventer said.

Bednar admits, “I haven’t seen a lot of financial studies done before the fact.”

Vanderventer also argues that there is no move by the County Board to dissolve or layer or tuck the recorder’s office into another operation.

“There is a lot of legal steps to get to where he (Bednar) wants to be,” said Vanderventer. “The only way to make it happen is if the Lake County Board wants it and there is no hint that they do. We’re just too large. It’s a moot point.”

“If I’m elected,” Bednar said, sounding confident, “I won’t be running for a second term.”

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