Lawsuits churning inside Algonquin Township have drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers for almost two years – and the people involved in those courtroom battles expect the legal tango to continue for years to come.
“Litigation is probably going to continue until the end of all our terms,” Supervisor Charles Lutzow said.
Lutzow has been targeted in several lawsuits, each one coming from the office of the man who works across the hall: Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser.
One of those road district lawsuits alleged that Lutzow committed constructive fraud when he opened highway department accounts at American Community Bank and named the accounts something other than “Algonquin Township Road District.” The accounts, managed by Lutzow, instead are named “Algonquin Township Highway Equipment and Building” and “Algonquin Township Highway Road and Bridge Fund.”
Officials, including the township’s longtime accountant, called the lawsuit frivolous. Yet, the lawsuit remains in the courts and seeks at least $1 million in compensation and punitive damages totaling “at least three times the amount” of road district funds held in accounts “in names other than the Algonquin Township road district.”
Township attorney Jim Kelly said he has no reason to expect Gasser and his Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, to sit down with officials to negotiate any kind of settlement.
“I see it going on until Andrew Gasser leaves office,” Kelly said. “They have no reason to settle it.”
Since June 2017, Hanlon’s firm has billed the road district more than $400,000, a large portion of fees that have mounted in multiple lawsuits, including a labor battle between the highway department and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and an in-house fight between Gasser and Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik.
Gasser remains in office until 2021, and he could not be reached for comment, but the Northwest Herald emailed Hanlon to ask how long the road district’s union battle – now in the appellate court – may last.
“Aren’t you sick and tired of being used?” Hanlon, who charges $400 an hour, wrote in an email to the Northwest Herald. “Aside from that, I have no comment.”
Local 150 spokeswoman Kim Ortiz criticized Gasser’s behavior after an election campaign built on promises about fiscal responsibility and transparency.
“Andrew Gasser ran as the fiscally responsible candidate, but it’s nearly two years into his term, and Gasser has never wasted an opportunity to spend taxpayer money to fund his legal battles,” Ortiz said. “Firing most of the experienced staff, and rarely present to manage the inexperienced replacements, Gasser has performed far worse than even his harshest critics could have imagined.”
In May 2017, minutes after he was sworn in as highway commissioner, Gasser fired the two sons-in-law of his predecessor, Bob Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – as well as former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos.
“It’s been a long winter in Algonquin Township,” Chirikos said at the board’s March 20 meeting. “Longer still is the discontent felt by township taxpayers who have funded a two-year campaign to discredit township government through protracted and expensive legal challenges.”
Local 150 has no intentions of giving up the fight to have the employees Gasser fired within minutes of taking office reinstated.
“Gasser claims his core values are ‘service before self’ and ‘community always,’ yet he has chosen to inflict unnecessary pain on the fired workers and their families and has jeopardized the safety of public roads,” Ortiz said. “Since Gasser is not using any of his own money to fund his fights, we suspect that all legal battles with Gasser will continue until there is a new highway commissioner, or until another government agency intervenes and puts an end to all this nonsense.”
Trustee Rachael Lawrence offered a solution to the litigation siphoning money from Algonquin Township.
“The best-case scenario is for him to resign,” Lawrence said. “I don’t see an end in sight for as long as Andrew Gasser’s in office.”