Algonquin Township's salt shortage emergency isn't an emergency after all, a McHenry County judge ruled on Wednesday.
In a filing, Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser previously threatened to shut down roads unless the Algonquin Township board approved payment to salt supplier, Compass Minerals.
The Kansas-based supplier delivered 1,161 tons of salt to Algonquin Township in October, at a cost of more than $107,000. As of Wednesday morning, the township board hadn't approved payment to Compass Minerals, which Gasser is accused of hiring without going through a mandatory biding process.
On Jan. 9, Algonquin Township officials unanimously voted, 5-0, to table the Compass Minerals salt bill – a pending transaction that now is the focus of a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office official misconduct investigation. During a closed session on that January night, Gasser leveraged his cooperation in an unrelated lawsuit settlement to pressure township officials into approving payment for the salt.
The highway department’s Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, asked a judge on Wednesday to order the township to approve payment of the bill. Township attorney James Kelly, however, said Gasser could acquire additional salt from other municipalities if there truly was an emergency.
"He is attempting through this motion to ratify an unlawful contract," Kelly said. "That's all that it is."
State law states that when the cost of construction, materials, supplies, new machinery or equipment exceeds $20,000, the contract must go to the lowest responsible bidder.
Judge Thomas Meyer called the issue at the heart of Wednesday's hearing a "political question" that is better suited for local government than a court room.
"Why is it an emergency if he can get it from other jurisdictions?" Meyer asked.
Hanlon suggested continuing the hearing for two weeks so Gasser could explore the option, but the judge refused and denied Gasser's request without prejudice.
"That tells me it's not an emergency," Meyer said. "Entering a continuance seems pointless because if it's not an emergency now, how is it going to be an emergency in two weeks?"
The Algonquin Township board will revisit the bill at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its offices, 3702 Route 14.