In the end, silence was the final vote.
At Algonquin Township’s monthly meeting Wednesday night, Trustee Rachael Lawrence motioned that board members read aloud and adopt a resolution to push forward a referendum to the November ballot asking whether the highway department should be consolidated.
Met with silence from the rest of the board, her motion – and the referendum – died.
The denial represented a growing chasm between the elected officials of McHenry County’s most populous township standing in support of government consolidation and those opposing it.
Before Lawrence failed to gain support, Algonquin Township officials shared their views on enabling voters to use a new law that went into effect Jan. 1 – House Bill 607, a statute that gives residents the power to abolish the highway department with a majority vote and transfer road responsibilities to the township.
First, it was Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser, who stepped up to the lectern to speak as a Fox River Grove resident. He encouraged the board to give voters the opportunity to consolidate the department he controls.
“I trust the voters,” Gasser said, “and you should, too.”
Trustee Melissa Victor said there are too many unknowns.
“There have been no studies and no data,” she said.
Reading from a prepared statement, Lawrence called those opposing consolidation for a lack of a plan and cost study “impractical.”
Trustee Dan Shea characterized Lawrence’s push for the referendum as a “condemnation” on “the man who’s in there now,” referring to Gasser.
“There may be a time for this,” Trustee Dave Chapman said, “but that time is not now.”
The debate inside Algonquin Township on Wednesday night came four months after officials in McHenry Township voted to put the fate of the highway department to voters in November.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-Crystal Lake, and McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks wrote a joint letter to Algonquin Township officials Monday, encouraging the board to vote on the referendum at this month’s meeting.
By not giving voters a chance to abolish the road district, Algonquin Township officials “sided against taxpayers who have been footing the bill for Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s profligate and inexcusable spending,” Franks said in a statement, taking aim at the first-term road commissioner.
Within minutes on his first day as commissioner, Gasser fired longtime Highway Commissioner Bob 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 multiple times to cover costs.
“There is no valid reason why any elected body would reject direct oversight over spending,” Franks said. “Tonight, Algonquin Township trustees chose the status quo over empowering voters to put an end to this circus. They chose cowardice over conviction. Ironically, they are a defendant in a lawsuit because they attempted to inject the very oversight that they now refuse to obtain lawfully.”
During his public comment, Gasser attacked the “elite McHenry County political class” – a group that uses “backdoor connections,” he said, to grandstand with news releases and manipulate the Northwest Herald “to advance their agenda.”
“This is all about good, honest, open and transparent government,” Gasser said.
Gasser is a Fox River Grove resident and military veteran who represented District 1 on the McHenry County Board alongside Anna May Miller, the wife and secretary of his road district predecessor, Bob Miller, whom he dethroned in February 2017.
Bob 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. Bob 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.
On May 31, after nearly seven months of investigation, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally declined to prosecute Bob Miller.