McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks would like to see the Algonquin Township Highway Department abolished.
That was the message of a letter he sent to officials of McHenry County’s most populous township Thursday morning, urging trustees to put a binding referendum to voters in the November election asking whether they would like to see the department eliminated.
“I share the alarm and shock of our constituents over legal fees that have escalated out of control,” Franks wrote, highlighting the $478,892 spent inside the township in the past year to fund multiple legal battles involving the highway department and commissioner. “Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser is now asking for $250,000 for next fiscal year. It seems he is perfectly content in bankrupting the township and depleting all reserves.”
Gasser characterized Franks’ letter as “full of half truths” but said he supports putting a referendum to voters.
“It makes me sound like I’m the bad guy in all of this, and I’m dealing with what I inherited,” Gasser said. “The real fleecing is being done by the political class that refused to recognize the unethical practices of Bob and Anna May Miller.”
Gasser – a Fox River Grove resident and military veteran who represented District 1 on the McHenry County Board alongside Miller’s wife and secretary, Anna May Miller – dethroned longtime road commissioner Bob Miller in February 2017.
Miller had worked in the highway department for more than four decades, starting on his 18th birthday.
His spending inside the road district has since been the subject of a grand jury probe. Miller’s highway department doled out more than $260,000 in unexplained bonuses, listed as miscellaneous pay on payroll records, over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017.
Miller, who now is receiving a pension from his days in the highway department and working as a consultant for other townships in McHenry County, has not been charged with a crime. He declined to comment.
Franks’ letter put the public’s perception of the turmoil brewing inside Algonquin Township under a microscope. He pointed to an April 11 township meeting where 40-year Algonquin Township resident Barry Fues called the legal drama a “nightmare.”
“I can’t think of a better word,” Franks wrote. “Besides legal bills, there is the real possibility that the taxpayers also will be on the hook to pay the legal fees of the employees that were fired, should they prevail in their lawsuits to win their jobs back.”
Within minutes of his first day as commissioner, Gasser fired Miller’s two sons-in-law, Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans.
Gasser, who ran on a campaign of ending nepotism inside the department, has been involved in an expensive labor battle with the union that represented the employees.
The legal tango forced Gasser to shift money in his budget to cover costs.
The highway department had a $17,164 budget for legal fees at the start of fiscal 2018. By the end of it, it had spent $284,771, according to budget records.
“Our taxpayers are getting fleeced,” Franks wrote. “This frivolous waste of taxpayer funds is not the only justification for asking voters whether the highway department should continue to exist.”
He pointed to the contentious hiring and firing of Ryan Provenzano – a 23-year-old political insider who remains on the payroll as deputy highway commissioner – and Algonquin Township trustees voting to relocate Gasser’s office.
While Franks called the tax money spent on legal fees and infighting an “embarrassment,” Gasser stood by his spending as a victory for taxpayers.
“Miller nepotism alone cost $398,000 a year. My legal fees were $250,000. I saved the taxpayers $150,000 in nepotism last year,” Gasser said.
The first-term highway commissioner lowered the department’s property tax levy by 5 percent during his first year in office.
“I guarantee you the Algonquin Township Highway Department is going to cut taxes this year,” Gasser said. “Can Jack Franks do the same? Can [state Rep.] David McSweeney do the same? I don’t think so. They don’t have the power. I do, and I’m going to do it.”