Algonquin Township Trustee Rachael Lawrence continued her campaign Wednesday night to get a referendum on the 2020 election ballot to give voters the power to abolish the highway department.
Although the Algonquin Township Board unanimously voted to table Lawrence’s resolution to put the referendum to ballot, officials engaged in a debate that revealed a strong philosophical divide.
On one side, Lawrence argued that the problems with the road district are rooted in a system that gives highway commissioners free rein to run their offices with little oversight. On the other side, Trustee Dan Shea contended that all of Algonquin Township’s problems can be traced to a single person: Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser.
“It’s ideal to pass this now because we have from today all the way until November 2020 to watch the Democratic process unfold, just as it did in McHenry Township,” Lawrence said. “All that I’m asking is that Algonquin Township voters be afforded that same opportunity.”
Efforts to eliminate townships and road districts have intensified in recent years. Voters and homeowners tired of high property taxes and the state’s worsening economic climate have been looking to cut anything from anywhere they can.
Officials in McHenry Township voted to put the fate of the highway department to voters in November. Voters rejected the referendum in an overwhelming fashion. More than
68 percent of them voted "no."
Lawrence said it would be wrong to characterize her push as a “cut stuff, save money” proposition.
“This is a ‘let people vote’ proposition,” Lawrence said.
The referendum would be tied to a law that went into effect last year – a statute that gives residents the power to abolish the highway department with a majority vote and transfer road responsibilities to the township.
“We’ve seen the consequences of having an autonomous and unaccountable person in this office,” Lawrence said. “It’s time for that to end, and when Springfield throws us a lifeline like this, I want to take it.”
The statute gives townships the ability to place a question on the ballot to let voters decide: “Shall the Road District of the Township of Algonquin be abolished with all the rights, powers, duties, assets, property, liabilities, obligations and responsibilities being assumed by the Township of Algonquin?”
On July 11, Lawrence brought forward the same resolution. Met with silence from the rest of the board, her motion – and the referendum – died.
On Wednesday night, Lawrence had little support from the board.
Shea said problems inside the highway department stem from the highway commissioner – not the form of government itself.
“What this is going to do is it gives the people the right to choose not to have the right to choose,” Shea said. “Where is this going wrong? It sounds almost foolish to me.”
Shea said he’s “very apprehensive” about legislation that snowballed in Springfield.
“We had years and years and years of excellent service out of that department,” Shea said.
The trustee took a swipe at Gasser, who did not attend the meeting. Gasser could not be reached for comment.
“I would not call the person a liar, because that’s wrong,” Shea said. “But I’ll be politically correct and say it’s a person who is honesty-challenged.”
Shea suggested an alternative to abolishing the road district: legislation that allows a recall of a highway commissioner by the public.
“There’s no real reason we have to go way out of our way to abolish an office that has years and years and years of success behind it,” Shea said.
“I cannot state this strongly enough,” Lawrence said. “This is not about a person. After Andrew Gasser’s term ends in 2021, who’s to prevent, who’s to say there won’t be another issue? This is not about a person. This is about accountability. This is about good government. This is about having some control.”
Trustee Dave Chapman agreed that there needs to be more road district oversight and invited Lawrence to join him in urging state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, to put some “teeth” into state code that would require McHenry County’s engineer to conduct checks and balances on highway departments.
The board voted, 4-0, to table Lawrence’s resolution until next month’s township meeting. Trustee Melissa Victor was absent.