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Judge orders oversight of Yarbrough’s office, finding patronage violations, ‘improper use of political considerations’

The Cook County clerk says she’ll appeal the decision from a federal judge, who found Yarbrough disregarded a series of orders aimed at curbing political considerations in hiring for government jobs.

Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough chats with candidates as they file their nominating petitions to get their name on the March primary ballot in November 2019.
Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough chats with candidates as they file their nominating petitions to get their name on the March primary ballot in November 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A court-ordered monitor will oversee Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbough’s office for a year after a federal judge on Friday ruled that she violated anti-patronage hiring policies.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Staley Schenkier found Yarbrough hired employees without posting jobs publicly, followed political considerations in awarding them and revised her list of positions exempt from court-ordered hiring requirements without approval.

Schenkier also took Yarbrough to task for her “ill-fated rotation policy,” which her opponents had said made life so unbearable for some supervisors they felt no choice but to resign, freeing up spots for the clerk’s political pals.

“Selective enforcement” of the policy, which cycled supervisors among six offices across the county for three-month periods at each, “suggest the improper use of political considerations in connection with existing employees,” Schenkier wrote in a 44-page order.

Yarbrough denied Schenkier’s assertions and said she will appeal his decision in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

It marks the latest chapter in a nearly 50-year-old saga of the anti-patronage Shakman decrees, named for the government watchdog Michael Shakman who in 1972 won the first in a series of federal consent decrees aimed at curbing the long-held Chicago-area practice of handing out government jobs to people with connections to clouted politicians.

Shakman filed a complaint centering on the rotation policy last September against Yarbrough, who took office in December 2018.

Shakman claimed Yarbrough instituted the “illegal patronage employment system” to force targeted supervisors out the door so she could give their jobs to people with political connections — while three supervisors were exempt from the arduous rotations: a soon-to-be-retiree, a relative of a former Chicago alderman and someone “connected” to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Yarbrough has called the allegations “preposterous” and “outrageous,” while her lawyers have suggested it “seems apparent Plaintiffs’ issue is not with the office, but the office holder.”

Yarbrough told the Chicago Sun-Times last fall that Shakman’s complaints were “purely personal” but wouldn’t directly say why. She noted “I’m the first woman and the first African American in this position.”

“Obviously the supervisors weren’t happy with this [rotation policy], but the job is the job and the place to work is the place to work,” Yarbrough said then. “Wherever you’re needed, you should be ready, willing and able to go and do the job there.”

Schenkier also expressed concern that while Yarbrough was Cook County’s recorder of deeds from 2012 through 2018, the office was monitored due to allegations of “unlawful political discrimination.” That office is set to merge with the clerk’s in December.

The judge appointed attorney Cardelle Spangler to monitor Yarbrough’s office through at least August 2021.

Contributing: Associated Press

Read the full order: