Local Editorials

Our view: Algonquin Township Highway Department bonuses highlight problem with small governments

More than $260,000 in unexplained bonuses are being investigated amid a wider probe into official misconduct during Bob Miller’s time at the Algonquin Township Highway Department.

Township officials have no written policy explaining the bonuses, characterized as miscellaneous pay, that were given to employees since May 2013, according to documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.

The lack of oversight is troubling. If governments have no policy detailing how to spend taxpayer money, the taxpayers lose.

Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser said he instituted a policy to compensate employees for practices such as being on call for snowplowing work during the winter months – however, when the Northwest Herald requested a copy of the pay policies, Gasser said the records didn’t exist.

How are elected officials supposed to responsibly spend taxpayer money when there is no policy detailing if or how bonuses should be distributed?

Miller – who served as highway commissioner for 24 years and was the subject of a grand jury investigation into official misconduct related to road district spending over the past decade – gave tens of thousands of dollars to his family members between May 2013 and May 2017.

Anna May Miller, the former highway commissioner’s wife and secretary, earned $9,250 in miscellaneous pay in 2016 alone. The irregular payments appeared in 15 increments of $200, $250, $350, $500, $750, $850, $1,000 and $1,750.

She wasn’t the only family member of Bob Miller to receive these miscellaneous payments.

Derek Lee – the husband of Bob Miller’s daughter, Rebecca Lee, and the former highway commissioner’s foreman – received $30,335. Andrew Rosencrans – another highway department employee who married Bob Miller’s daughter, Mallory – received $24,485, documents show.

This is what can happen when spending policies aren’t in place.

Illinois has more than 7,000 units of local government. It’s easy to see how spending in these tiny governments can get out of control when one family runs a unit for decades with little to no oversight.

A new system needs to be put into place at the Algonquin Township Highway Department, and any other government body that may have similar bonus payments, so elected officials are accountable for how they spend residents’ money.

As Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, an Ancel Glink attorney who co-authored The Township Officials of Illinois’ “Laws & Duties Handbook,” said: “If there are side payments and there is no accountability, we have no basis to measure whether it’s lawful.”

This needs to change.

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