After months of rejecting payments owed to Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s attorney, trustees on Wednesday night approved about $35,000 to the road district’s $400-an-hour Woodstock-based lawyer, Robert Hanlon.
The board voted, 3-2, to approve payment to Hanlon, whose firm has charged the highway department of McHenry County’s most populous township more than $400,000 representing Gasser in a complex legal battle dismissed multiple times and now on its way to appeals court.
The vote followed a discussion among board members. Although some trustees raised concerns about Gasser’s spending, others said the law gives township officials limited powers in their duties and does not give them the power to control the way the highway commissioner spends his money – as long as he has the cash in his budget.
Trustees Melissa Victor and Dan Shea said they would not support payment to Hanlon.
“I just feel like it’s just dirty money,” Victor said. “The money just keeps going. He just keeps making money.”
Shea contended that he would rather have Hanlon sue the township and road district for rejecting his bills to allow a judge to decide whether the legal spending is justified.
“We’re the last step here to protect the public,” he said.
Trustee Rachael Lawrence said the bills should be paid, adding that township code does not give trustees the authority to control the road district, which is a separate government entity.
“Regardless of our feelings,” she said, “we have a very limited scope.”
Trustee Dave Chapman and Supervisor Charles Lutzow echoed the sentiment that the lawsuits brewing between the road district and township need to end.
Shea and Victor voted against paying the legal bills. Chapman, Lawrence and Lutzow voted to approve the bills.
Officials unanimously voted, 5-0, to table a highway department road salt bill for more than $105,000 from Kansas-based salt supplier Compass Minerals.
“I’m uncomfortable with it,” Victor said. “I don’t feel we should pay it.”
Shea said he refused to support the road salt payment because he does not want to be a “co-conspirator” in a situation now at the center of an open misconduct investigation.
In December, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office subpoenaed township Clerk Karen Lukasik for records tied to more than $225,000 in road salt Gasser bought without going to bid in an apparent violation of Illinois Highway Code.
The code rules that when the cost of construction, materials, supplies, new machinery or equipment exceeds $20,000, the contract is to go to the lowest responsible bidder after the road district has advertised for bids in a local newspaper.
Without going to bid, Gasser paid $91 a ton – a rate much higher than what other area highway departments have paid. Cary spent $62, Woodstock paid $62, Fox River Grove spent $63, Crystal Lake paid $64, and McHenry Township paid $68.
Road districts most often buy rock salt through a state bid at a price that is much lower than what buyers would find going directly to the supplier.
The bill that went before trustees Wednesday night was for 54 truckloads of 1,161 tons of salt that Compass Minerals delivered in October.
“I made a mistake by not bidding the salt,” Gasser wrote in an October email to the Northwest Herald. “I am working with [counsel] to correct the situation.”
On Dec. 21, Gasser awarded the bid for “winter road salt” to Compass. He also invited Chicago-based Morton Salt Inc. to bid, but the company declined.
Shea said Gasser should attend meetings to discuss the issue.
“I don’t believe in doing things behind the public’s back,” he said.
Gasser could not be reached for comment.