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Local Editorials

Our view: Algonquin Township Highway Department's legal expenses are out of control

We supported the reform message that Andrew Gasser brought to the Algonquin Township highway commissioner office this year, but some of his tactics look like more of the same cronyism and wasteful spending he pledged to end.

Gasser made a campaign pledge to rid the Algonquin Township Highway Department of patronage hires and nepotism shown by his predecessor. He also vowed not to accept pension benefits or health benefits through the township, and he followed through on both of those promises, which we commend.

But then to defend his personnel decisions, he hired Robert Hanlon, a lawyer who donated $1,000 to Gasser’s campaign, to represent the department at a rate of $375 an hour. Hanlon’s standard rate is $400 an hour, but he notes on bills that the price was reduced to $375 “as a courtesy” to Gasser. Although Hanlon’s firm has gone on to bill the township more than $131,000 for legal services, Gasser has been ordered to rehire the employees whom he fired on his first day in office.

In May, minutes after he was sworn in as highway commissioner, Gasser fired two sons-in-law of predecessor Robert Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – and former Republican McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos. Lee and Rosecrans each received total compensation valued at more than $90,000 a year. That sparked a labor dispute between Gasser and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

Administrative Law Judge Deena Sanceda ordered the highway department to rehire the three employees and repay them for all financial losses, including wages and benefits with compounded interest at a rate of 7 percent, according to a Illinois Labor Relations Board ruling dated Sept. 28. Gasser has not rehired the employees and is fighting the order to do so.

Records show that Hanlon’s firm billed the township $131,016.60 for 368.44 hours of work on the cases, although Sanceda ruled the township never filed a response to the labor complaint, which resulted in a default judgment.

Hanlon said the matter isn’t settled, however. He filed a motion Oct. 6 for the labor board to throw out the order, claiming the highway department was not served with the complaint. Presumably, there will be more legal bills to come.

Hanlon’s firm, Robert T. Hanlon & Associates Inc., has charged the department as much as $515 an hour for legal work, records show. The Woodstock-based firm is working on more than one case for the department, according to billing records.

It is outrageous for such a small unit of government to spend so much money on legal expenses at such high rates.

At Ancel Glink, a law firm specializing in local government work, attorney Keri-Lyn J. Krafthefer and her associates represent 450 cities and 50 townships and road districts. In her 29 years as a lawyer, Krafthefer said she has never seen a township pay so much in legal fees.

“In most of our townships, we don’t charge $10,000 a year for all of their legal work,” said Krafthefer, who said she charges clients about $195 an hour. “Never have I seen those types of rates involved. I don’t know any other public sector attorneys that get paid that much.”

The money Gasser has thrown into this fight doesn’t seem to be working. Taxpayers need to see results, and soon, or the public money spigot needs to be shut off.

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