CRYSTAL LAKE – Is the highway department the same as the road district?
To residents who pay taxes, the answer might seem simple.
To the lawyer representing Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser in a labor case that has generated thousands of dollars in legal fees, the question was more important than the answer.
It’s the reason the road boss will get his day in court.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board on Monday rejected a judge’s ruling and order for Gasser to rehire the three employees the highway commissioner fired on his first day on the job, according to court records.
After months of back-and-forth court filings from Gasser’s attorney, Robert Hanlon, and lawyers for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, the ruling came down as to whether the “highway department” is the same entity as the “road district.”
Although the board commented in a court filing that Hanlon’s arguments about the difference separating the two entities were “not persuasive,” the board concluded that the complaint form was not served on the proper entity – the Algonquin Township Road District.
“Although the exceptions are not particularly persuasive on the issue of whether the highway department and the road district are separate and distinct entities,” the filing says, “... [they] cast just enough doubt as to the identity of the proper respondent in this case.”
Gasser and his attorney now will have an opportunity to stand before an administrative law judge to defend against the charge and make a case for why the highway department is separate from the road district. A hearing date has not been set.
Despite repeated phone calls in recent weeks, the Northwest Herald could not reach Gasser for comment on the case.
“I can’t articulate what we’re going to do in the future because it would prejudice my client,” Hanlon told the Northwest Herald. “We’re going to seek a resolution of the matter in the most cost-effective way possible.”
Algonquin Township Supervisor Charles Lutzow said the case could not end soon enough.
“I would love to see these cases settled,” Lutzow said, “and not have any more lawyers crawling around the township.”
The legal acrobatics that led to Monday’s ruling have been complicated – and expensive.
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.
In total, Hanlon’s firm has charged the highway department $202,427, according to billing records. It has billed the department for 571 hours of work.
Records show that labor attorney Michael Ernest Avakian has helped Hanlon in his work for Algonquin Township. The Washington, D.C.-based attorney spent hours researching, editing and finalizing responses regarding the union, according to billing records.
He spent hours researching the distinction between the highway department and the township’s road district. Gasser’s legal team claimed that the union failed to serve the proper entity.
In May, minutes after he was sworn in as highway commissioner, Gasser fired the two sons-in-law of predecessor Robert Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – and former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos. That sparked the labor dispute between Gasser and Local 150. The union reported the firings to the labor board in June.
In August, the labor board issued a complaint against Gasser and the Algonquin Township Highway Department for unfair labor practices.
In a complaint mailed to Hanlon on Aug. 21, the labor board alleged that the firings were unlawful and Gasser failed to bargain in good faith after he publicly abandoned the highway department’s contract with the union.
The complaint said the highway department had to respond within 15 days, but the highway department did not respond to the complaint in time – a move that pressed Local 150 attorneys to file a motion for a default judgment.
On Sept. 28, Administrative Law Judge Deena Sanceda granted that request. By not responding, the highway department waived its right to a hearing and admitted to the unfair labor allegations, Sanceda said.
Sanceda ordered the Algonquin Township 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 Sept. 28 Illinois Labor Relations Board document.
Hanlon argued that he appeared in the matter as a lawyer representing the Algonquin Township Road District – but he received a complaint addressing the Algonquin Township Highway Department.
He claimed that because the road district and highway department are two separate entities, the complaint was served to the wrong entity.
Gasser claimed in a court filing that he was never served with the complaint and the complaint never has been presented to the highway department.
“I have never been served with a complaint in the above captioned matter,” Gasser said in a signed affidavit Oct. 5. “No attorney has appeared on behalf of the Algonquin Township Highway Department. I was not aware that a complaint had been filed.”
Billing records suggest otherwise. Hanlon billed the highway department for legal research, discussions and meetings with Gasser about the Labor Relations Board and unfair labor practice issue. Hanlon and his office were representing Gasser in a McHenry County Circuit Court case at the same time. Hanlon billed the highway department under the circuit court case number, but the records showed overlap with the Labor Relations Board issue.
The bills also show that Hanlon and his associates were preparing a response to the labor board. Hanlon billed the highway department for $107,504.60 between May and September, according to billing records obtained by the Northwest Herald. Hanlon is working on more than one case for the highway department.
On Oct. 6, Local 150 lawyers filed a motion to change the name on the complaint from “Algonquin Highway Department” to “Algonquin Township Road District a/k/a Algonquin Township Highway Department.”
Union representatives are confident the case will end in their favor, calling Hanlon’s legal tactics a ploy to stall proceedings.
“Local 150 is exceedingly familiar with legitimate labor disputes, but the road district’s legal strategy has caused this to devolve into something else entirely, at extraordinary cost to the taxpayer,” Local 150 communications director Edward Maher said in a statement. “The result of this decision is that taxpayers will continue to fund Gasser’s argument over what his department is called as he continues to stall the inevitable reckoning over the merits of our charge.”