URBANA – The fate of the Champaign County Recorder’s office is up to the voters. If they approve a referendum on the April 6 ballot, the work of the recorder of deeds will be merged into the county clerk’s office
The referendum, which the county board voted in January to place on the ballot, asks: “Shall the office of the recorder of Champaign County be eliminated and all duties and responsibilities of the office of the recorder of deeds be transferred to the office of the county clerk of Champaign County on December 31, 2021?”
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The question is a binding one. And if Champaign County voters say yes, County Recorder Mike Ingram will step down by the end of the year or earlier. The work of keeping Champaign County property records will continue under the county clerk.
Ingram, a former county board member, made eliminating the recorder’s office the main plank in his 2020 campaign platform for the job. The Democrat narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Mark Shelden in last November’s election. Shelden had proposed keeping the office, but having the recorder chosen by the county board, instead of the voters.
But Ingram argues that a separate recorder of deeds is not really necessary. He has praised the skills and hard work of his staff, but says his own job is mainly a political post.
“I’ve been pitching in and doing all sorts of things in the office,” said Ingram, “but I don’t think there’s been any time where I felt like, gosh, they wouldn’t survive without me.”
Shelden and his predecessor as recorder, fellow Republican Barb Frasca, say the office needs a full-time leader who will be ultimately accountable to the voters, whether elected, or appointed by the county board.
Speaking at a League of Women Voters forum on the referendum earlier this month, Frasca said the work of the recorder, involving keeping a permanent and accessible record of property transactions, is too important for just part-time oversight by a county clerk.
“You need someone whose sole responsibility is to keep up with the changes in statutes, to keep up with changing demands of the public, to actively be just watching over that department,” said Frasca.
In Illinois, counties with populations of under 60,000 elect a combined clerk and recorder as a matter of course. But in recent years, the merger of the two offices has also been approved (by voters or the county board) in several larger counties, including McLean, Peoria, and Winnebago, and Illinois’ most populous county, Cook.