Algonquin Township highway commissioner's salt order violates state code

Records: Gasser pays almost double Illinois’ common bidding price

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser bought almost 1,200 tons of rock salt without going through a competitive bidding process in an apparent violation of state code, and as a result, he paid about double the price charged to area road districts for salt.

On Oct. 6, Kansas-based salt supplier Compass Minerals delivered 54 truckloads of 1,161 tons of salt: an order of $105,875, according to billing records.

Road districts most often buy rock salt through a state bid with the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. The state bid is a price that is much lower than what buyers would find going directly to the supplier. The average price through the state bids in 2018 is between $46 and $50 a ton. Gasser paid $91.17 a ton.

In a news release, the road commissioner said the large purchase was because of an “oversight,” and the highway department is exploring remedies to comply with the law, but the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office now is looking into the situation.

“We recently received information from the state attorney’s office and are in the process of reviewing that information,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sandra Rogers said. “Once that is done, we will confer with them to determine if further investigation is warranted.”

The Northwest Herald emailed Gasser with questions about the salt purchase. He responded: “I made a mistake by not bidding the salt. I am working with [counsel] to correct the situation.”

The journey of the salt story to the sheriff’s office started when a whistleblower tipped off Trustee Rachael Lawrence that Gasser did not put the massive order to bid, a requirement of the 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 advertised for bids in a local newspaper.

Lawrence sent Gasser an email
Oct. 11 requesting information about the amount of salt bought and the "notification of bid-letting and official awarding of bid, if one exists."

Gasser did not reply. Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik confirmed there was no bid on the salt. Lawrence gathered her information and went to McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally.

“Because the highway commissioner failed and/or refused to supply that information, and with documents obtained from Clerk Lukasik and other sources, I met with the state’s attorney on Oct. 15 to turn over said documents and request a proper investigation by the authorities to ensure full compliance with the law, as is my duty as an Algonquin Township trustee,” Lawrence said in a statement.

Kenneally declined to comment, but the Northwest Herald has learned through several sources that the state’s attorney forwarded details about the salt transaction to the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

The day after Kenneally learned of the salt order, Gasser’s Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, sent out a news release from Gasser.

“Presently, there is a shortage of salt, and the road district has secured the necessary supplies for this next winter,” the Tuesday release said. “However, due to an oversight, this year’s purchase was not put out for bid. To remedy this situation, the road district is considering several options and has conferred with its counsel. Until there is a remedy to the situation, the road district will not disburse any payment to any supplier until all such actions comply with state law.”

The Northwest Herald reached out to Compass Minerals, but officials there did not reply with a comment about Gasser’s plans to withhold payment.

It is unclear what will happen to the 1,161 tons of salt delivered to the road district. Sources inside the township said there have been discussions about sending the salt back to the supplier – a transport that could cost more than $20,000.