On Friday afternoon, Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser used the road district’s marquee to share a message attacking the Northwest Herald:
“THE NORTHWORST HERALD IS FAKE NEWS,” the sign read.
A lawyer who co-wrote the handbook for township officials in Illinois said Gasser’s use of the marquee is “ridiculous” and constitutes an improper use of government property.
“That appears to me to be political speech,” said Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, an Ancel Glink attorney who co-authored The Township Officials of Illinois’ “Laws & Duties Handbook.” “That’s an improper use of public property.”
The Northwest Herald tracked down Gasser to ask why he used the government marquee to criticize the free press.
“I put it on there because you’re fake news,” Gasser said, then turned his back and lumbered across the parking lot to his office. “I just don’t want to talk to fake news.”
Driving by the sign at 3702 Route 14 just before 3:20 p.m. Friday, residents would have seen: “THE NORHTWORST HERALD IS FAKE NEWS.”
When the Northwest Herald notified Gasser about the misspelling of “Northwest,” the road commissioner said this: “Someone changed it then.”
Gasser later returned to the sign to change the spelling to “Northworst.” He told the Northwest Herald the moment would be good to capture on video.
Elected officials in Algonquin Township and McHenry County at large are criticizing Gasser’s use of the government marquee.
“I’m not in favor of using government funds to criticize the press,” Algonquin Township Supervisor Charles Lutzow said.
“That’s absolutely asinine,” Algonquin Township Trustee Dave Chapman said.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks characterized Gasser’s behavior as a dart in the side of township government.
“I read the sign to read ‘Abolish Township Government,’ ” Franks said. “He’s given every taxpayer and driver on Route 14 a reason to question its continued existence.”
The Marengo Democrat called the comments on the sign an inappropriate and illegal use of taxpayer resources.
“He doesn’t own that sign or the letters, the taxpayers do,” Franks said. “The taxpayers also paid for the time for him or someone else to change the letters. He cannot use government resources for personal use.”
In 2009, Gasser got media attention for putting a different kind of message on a billboard. Back then, he was known as "Uncle Meatball."
That’s the name Gasser used to post screeds on the Bears message boards in 2009, when he launched BearsFansUnited – a collection of Bears super-fans who took aim at team management and coach Lovie Smith.
The group launched the now-defunct BearsFansUnited.org and collected more than $3,500 in donations from more than 200 people to raise a 24-foot-by-9-foot billboard with this message: “To the McCaskey family,” the billboard near 2430 Hintz Road in Arlington Heights said. “Do the right thing. Hire an ENTIRELY new coaching staff. Sincerely, The Chicago Bear Fans.”
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, also used Gasser’s “fake news” message as a shot to the ribs of McHenry County’s most populous township – and townships as a viable form of government.
“This is just another case of the township out of control, and it’s very clear that the township needs to be consolidated,” McSweeney said. “Every day that passes with these childish antics provides further support that Algonquin Township needs to be eliminated.”