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Algonquin Township transfers $195K to pay for highway commissioner's mounting legal bills

CRYSTAL LAKE – Algonquin Township trustees have approved a transfer of $194,870 from the road district’s $3 million coffer into a fund to cover the mounting legal bills of Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser.

The move at Wednesday night’s township meeting unsettled some township officials and several residents upset about how the largest municipality in McHenry County has been spending tax dollars.

“I’m appalled,” David Chapman, a township trustee, said.

Entangled in her own legal battle with the highway commissioner, Clerk Karen Lukasik raised concerns to township attorney James Kelly that officials might be breaking the law by approving the fund transfer. In August, the trustees approved the transfer of $70,000 into Gasser’s fund for legal counsel, according to Lukasik.

“Are we over the amount we can do?” Lukasik asked.

Section 3 of the Illinois Municipal Budget Law authorizes transfers between the various items within any fund as long as the transfer does not exceed 10 percent of the total amount appropriated for the fund.

The township’s Road and Bridge budget at the start of the fiscal year was $2.3 million, according to records. The township budgeted $95,500 for legal counsel, but Gasser has spent $135,676, according to October financial records.

The township’s total Road and Bridge fund is about $3 million, Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser said.

“It is my understanding that this is putting us right at that 10 percent,” Gasser said.

Trustee Dan Shea motioned to approve the fund transfer, seconded by Trustee Rachael Lawrence.

“I’m less than happy that we’re taking money from building and maintenance and we’re putting it into a legal fund and it looks like that fund balance is going to end up being a quarter of a million dollars,” Chapman said. “I just want us to make sure we’re looking at that and making sure we could get this stuff done and over with before we make any more expenditures for lawyers.” 

Lawrence supported the fund transfers with no qualms.

“We all as a board unanimously sat at executive session and for hours and unanimously decided to allow the highway commissioner to hire his own attorney and we knew it would be at a higher rate because of his specialized services, and now to deny him the transfer of funds, which he has in his funds – denying him the ability to pay those bills would be obstruction in my opinion,” Lawrence said.

Legal fees from the law firm hired by the Algonquin Township Highway Department in a dispute with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 have topped $130,000 since May.

Since June, Robert T. Hanlon & Associates has represented Gasser and the highway department in a fight against Local 150 and the Illinois Labor Relations Board. For his work in multiple union cases, Hanlon charges Gasser and the department $375 an hour, according to billing records obtained by the Northwest Herald. Hanlon’s firm has charged the department as much as $515 an hour for legal work, records show

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.

The mounting legal bills have angered many inside the township – including union members who raised concerns at Wednesday’s meeting.

“This is all coming at an expense to the taxpayers here,” said Richard Fahy, a business representative of Local 150. “As the board members here, you do have the responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure you’re spending their money wisely, and I ask you to do that now.”

Kevin Fitzgerald, a 29-year-old Algonquin Township resident and road district employee, demanded more transparency from officials.

“Our Founding Fathers founded this government on checks and balances to make sure things didn’t get out of hand,” Fitzgerald said. “Where are those checks and balances, and when is enough enough?”

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