'Racist Agenda': Tensions fume at meeting to merge 2 Cook County offices

Does a political office "belong" to a certain minority community? That’s the argument made by some who object to the proposed merger of two Cook County offices: the Clerk and the Recorder of Deeds.

- Does a political office "belong" to a certain minority community? That’s the argument made by some who object to the proposed merger of two Cook County offices: the Clerk and the Recorder of Deeds.

And that sparked an angry confrontation about race at Wednesday’s county board meeting.

"We do not trust the blue eyed fox to watch the colored henhouse. That's our opposition,” said community activist Eric Russell.

That comment is one of several that drew fire from Cook County commissioners, as they debated a proposed referendum on eliminating the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office and folding its duties into the office of Cook County Clerk, which is a move that could save taxpayers between 800-thousand and a million dollars a year.

Cook County Clerk David Orr is white. Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough is African American.

During public comment, Russell called Commissioner John Fritchey, who authored the proposal, a racist.

"If this office is phased out in 2020, black people will be phased out of Chicago. And I think that's the hidden agenda behind this question submitted by 12th District Commissioner Fritchey,” Russell said.

Fritchey: “The gentleman that says he knows me, you don't know me."
Russell: "I know a racist agenda when I see it."
Fritchey: "Racist agenda?”

"I don't believe and I will never believe that certain elected seats belong to certain ethnic or minority groups,” Fritchey said.

Afterwards, Fritchey and Russell made peace in the hallway outside. But some African American commissioners are questioning the merger plan.

"For us to save 800-thousand dollars is not a lot of money. It's gonna cost us more to merge the offices than it is for us to save the money. So that doesn't make a lot of sense to me,” said Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims.

Commissioners have decided to let voters decide the issue by holding a ballot referendum in November. But now, some Commissioners want to delay that referendum, saying more study needs to be given to determine exactly how much money would be saved.

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