The Algonquin Township Board unanimously rejected Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s request to transfer $8,000 into his $150,000 legal fund to allow the road district to pay a $40,000 lawsuit settlement without going over budget.
Trustees berated the road commissioner for agreeing to settlement terms one official characterized as “dubious.”
“Commissioner Gasser was well aware of his self-imposed and board-approved budget at the time this proposed settlement was drafted,” Trustee Rachael Lawrence said. “This agreement that was entered into is not a court order.”
The highway department has requested a transfer of $8,000 into the government’s $150,000 legal budget to cover a $40,000 settlement payout to a downstate watchdog group that sued the township and highway department for allegedly failing to follow public records law.
“We were under the impression that we needed to approve this within five days because it was court-ordered,” Lawrence said. “That is not the case. ... Despite knowing that such a settlement would exceed his budget, Commissioner Gasser – and I quote from the document itself – ‘freely and voluntarily’ offered to pay the plaintiff $40,000 in exchange for being released from [the] lawsuit.”
A paragraph in an agreement getting the highway department out of a public records lawsuit gave the township board 10 days after its Oct. 10 meeting to audit the payment, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the Northwest Herald.
“In that the board of trustees shall refuse to audit the payment referenced in this paragraph, the amount of the settlement shall increase at a rate of $5,000 per month until paid in full,” the settlement reads.
The April complaint from the Edgar County Watchdogs alleges the governments did not comply with the Freedom of Information Act on 16 occasions.
Because the settlement was not ordered by a court, the settlement payment is not an unforeseen or necessary expenditure, Lawrence said, urging the board to vote against the transfer of funds to pay the settlement.
“I strongly admonish the highway commissioner for what appears to be yet another example of the consequences of reckless disregard for the taxpayers of Algonquin Township,” Lawrence said.
The board voted 5-0 against Gasser’s request. Gasser did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment.
The clerk’s office also has requested a transfer of $25,000 from other funds in the township budget to cover ongoing legal costs associated with the lawsuit. The transfer would bring Clerk Karen Lukasik’s legal budget to $137,500.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the request.