The McHenry County Sheriff's Office has opened an official misconduct investigation into the case of almost 1,200 tons of road salt Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser bought without going through a competitive bidding process in an apparent violation of state code – a move that cost the road district almost an additional $30 a ton than the price charged to area road districts for salt.
On Dec. 3, the McHenry County state’s attorney served a grand jury subpoena to Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik to collect records for the sheriff’s office, according to documents reviewed by the Northwest Herald.
The subpoena asked for “any document or record related to the purchase of road/rock salt (including but not limited to any invoices, receipts, accountings, advertisements, solicitations, offers, bids, agreement, notes or memorandums), whether let to bid or directly purchased by the Algonquin Township Highway Department, from May 15, 2017, to the present.”
Gasser could not be reached for comment.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally declined to comment on the investigation.
“We have no comment due to it being an active investigation,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sandra Rogers said.
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.
Gasser paid $91 a ton – about $30 more than what area highway departments spent through the Lake County Division of Transportation's salt-buying program. Cary spent $62, Woodstock paid $62, Fox River Grove spent $63 and Crystal Lake paid $64.
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 Northwest Herald emailed Gasser with questions about the salt purchase. He responded in October: “I made a mistake by not bidding the salt. I am working with [counsel] to correct the situation.”
In a news release, the highway commissioner said the large purchase was because of an “oversight,” and the highway department is exploring remedies to comply with the law.
Illinois Highway 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.
Billing records from July show that Gasser bought 2,500 tons of salt at a rate of $91 a ton without going to bid – an order totaling $227,500.
For weeks, it was unclear what would happen to the 1,161 tons of salt Compass Minerals delivered to the road district in October, but recent transactions suggest that the salt is staying in Gasser’s possession.
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.
“[At] this time, we respectfully submit a no bid,” Anthony Patton, Morton’s director of bulk deicing sales and marketing, wrote in a Dec. 18 letter.
The next day, Sean Lierz, a Compass Minerals sales manager, submitted a bid price of $91.17 a ton – the same price the company charged Gasser for his massive July salt purchase.
“Price submitted also applies to [1,161] tons delivered in October 2018,” Lierz wrote on the bid information document. “If Compass is low bidder and awarded contract, salt will not be delivered until payment is received for the [1,161] tons delivered in October.”
Patton and Lierz would not comment on the salt bid. They both referred the Northwest Herald to the public relations department.
Representatives there could not be reached Friday afternoon.