Local Government

Injunction alleges improper spending at Algonquin Townshop Highway Department

CRYSTAL LAKE – New Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser has filed an injunction to prevent what he alleges is the impending destruction of documents that detail questionable spending under his predecessor.

The injunction, filed Thursday in McHenry County court, alleges that Township Clerk Karen Lukasik intends to destroy various township records, including receipts that he alleges indicate that the department under former Highway Commissioner Robert Miller used official township credit cards for personal reasons. The injunction names Lukasik, Miller and Miller’s wife, Anna May Miller, who used to work as her husband’s secretary.

Gasser, who narrowly unseated Robert Miller in the Feb. 28 township GOP primary, said he has an obligation to the taxpayers “to ascertain if there is any malfeasance associated with the prior operations of the highway department,” but he deferred further comment to attorney Robert Hanlon, who filed the injunction.

Miller, who rejected the accusations in the injunction, said the whole thing has been cooked up by Gasser to torpedo his quest to get appointed to fill out the remainder of Gasser’s term on the County Board. Gasser resigned the seat to focus on being highway commissioner.

“I’ve spent a whole lifetime in public service, and I was hoping I could be appointed to his spot and continue my public service. This was a way to embarrass me and disparage my good name,” Miller said.

Lukasik could not be reached for comment Monday.

The injunction alleges that Gasser received an anonymous package at the end of May that included records of various purchases between 2012 and 2016 made on credit cards expensed to the highway department. They allegedly include women’s clothing from Prada, Land’s End and other vendors – the exhibit attached to the injunction is for a $329 Levenger tote bag.

It also alleges that township credit cards were used by employees to buy personal goods.

“Upon information and belief, a scheme and artifices was utilized by employees of Algonquin Township to receive additional compensation beyond salaries as well as ‘bonuses,’ ” the injunction stated.

Miller said that department employees did in fact get a clothing allowance – as for the tote bag, it was used to carry equipment and was left with the township.

He said he has no idea about buying gift cards for improper purposes. Miller said the department regularly bought gift cards from Home Depot and similar outlets to hand out to residents whose property was damaged as a result of plowing, mowing or other highway department activities.

He further said that all of his department’s expenses were read and reviewed by township trustees. As for the injunction’s allegation that Miller did not keep any financial records, he said they are not kept by the highway commissioner but by the township supervisor, who acts as the department’s treasurer. Miller also disputed the allegation that he did not leave Gasser any records, or that he conducted his official business on his private email.

“Nobody took anything. No receipts or bills ever left the office,” Miller said.

As for the injunction’s goal of preserving the public records, local governments do not have unilateral authority to destroy them under state law. Public bodies in the county must apply in writing to the Downstate Local Records Commission, which decides in a hearing whether the records in question can be destroyed. Documents that are the subject of litigation – such as the ones referenced in the injunction – cannot be ruled on by the commission while the litigation is active.

The injunction has been scheduled for an Aug. 31 hearing before Judge Michael Chmiel. However, Chmiel has a previous and controversial relationship with the Miller family.

In 2007, Chmiel convened a special Saturday bond court for Miller’s brother, David – who was arrested for allegedly illegally dumping an overweight truckload – so he would not have to spend Father’s Day weekend in jail. David Miller ultimately was acquitted of the charge by another judge.

The Illinois Courts Commission in 2010 reprimanded Chmiel, concluding that the special hearing created the appearance of impropriety. A reprimand is the lowest level of punishment the commission can dole out to a judge.

Robert Miller had held the office of highway commissioner for 24 years – his father and his father’s father-in-law had held it before him.

The injunction is the latest development in a fight that began the day that Gasser took office – he fired Miller’s two sons-in-law and a third recent hire. However, after Gasser’s election win, the department employees joined the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which filed a grievance immediately after the firings.

County Board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is accepting applications to replace Gasser through Monday.

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