LAKE IN THE HILLS – In a bid to make dealings inside the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District transparent, officials have launched a new website loaded with meeting minutes, agendas and financial information open for the public to explore.
“What we wanted was full transparency,” said Eric Hansen, sanitary district president.
The website – www.lithsd.com – offers links to information about the district’s financials, billing and even includes a page titled “Government Transparency,” a place where residents can dig into budgets, audits, expenditures, meeting information and trustee salaries.
“The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District has provided the following information in our continued efforts for complete government transparency,” the website reads.
The website launch follows on the heels of a legal battle between McHenry County and the sanitary district – and the appointment of two trustees who thought former district leaders lacked transparency when it came to day-to-day business and public information.
“I don’t know if it was oversight or if the previous board did not care that much about it,” Hansen said. “The first thing we wanted to do is to get all that information out there for everyone.”
In June, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks appointed trustees Hansen and Kyle Kane. Under a new law written by Franks during his final term as a state lawmaker, the McHenry and Lake county boards can eliminate governments that are entirely within their respective counties, and to which the boards appoint a majority of the trustees.
Franks and the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office took the sanitary district to court last summer to foil an attempt by several of its former trustees and managers to prevent discussion about a potential consolidation of the district. The plan was to buy 13.88 acres of land – at an estimated cost of more than $950,000 – about a mile and a half away from the southern boundary of its service area.
Kane and Hansen voted to reverse the decision on the land deal and ignited a legal battle.
Private email communication between district officials and engineers, attorneys and real estate brokers revealed that the sanitary district seemed eager to close any land deal it could in Kane County to prevent consolidation.
McHenry County Judge Thomas Meyer halted the district’s proposed Kane County land purchase, and later granted a preliminary injunction blocking the sale. Lake in the Hills Sanitary District officials agreed to stop trying to annex land across the Kane County border that would block the McHenry County Board from potentially consolidating the district with village government.
Both sides agreed to dismiss the case without prejudice and bear its respective legal fees, according to court documents. The move allowed McHenry County to move forward with plans to possibly consolidate the district.
The legal battle showed Hansen and Kane a lack of transparency hurting the sanitary district, Hansen said.
Before the site’s launch, residents would have to visit the sanitary district’s physical address – 515 Plum St., Lake in the Hills – to get a meeting agenda. Most municipalities offer such documents online.
“Somebody would have to go to the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District and go through the files to get it,” Hansen said. “It seemed absurd that we’re in 2017 and you can’t get this information on the web.”
On Oct. 31, Franks proposed a timeline to the Ad Hoc Lake in the Hills Sanitary District Committee that would lead to the consolidation of the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District. The committee was created to begin a transparent debate regarding whether the district could be eliminated and its functions folded into village government like other county municipalities that manage their own wastewater services, Franks said.
About 40,000 residents in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake and Huntley are served by the 11-square-mile district, which voters created in 1963 to handle wastewater management and pollution control. Consolidating the sanitary district could save $400,000 a year, according to an October report from village staff.