Algonquin Township trustee rethinks township's refusal to pay road salt bills

An Algonquin Township trustee is urging the board to approve a contentious unpaid road salt bill.

After months of the township’s refusal to pay more than $107,000 in road salt bills, trustee Rachael Lawrence believes that approving the bill could prevent the township from paying “exorbitant” prices for the upcoming winter’s road salt. Ultimately, the financial burden to taxpayers is more pressing than the liability risk the board feared when the salt apparently was obtained without going through the proper bidding process, she said.

Lawrence explained her position Sunday in an email to fellow trustees and Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser. The board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“I wanted to send this email out to each of the board members individually in advance of Wednesday’s meeting so that no one is surprised during the meeting about an ongoing issue I have reconsidered after new events and giving it serious thought and research. I encourage you to do the same,” Lawrence wrote.

Gasser is accused of buying about 1,161 tons, or 54 truckloads, of rock salt from Kansas-based supplier Compass Minerals without going through the required competitive bidding process. Gasser paid almost $30 more a ton than what other area road districts paid for salt by not following state bidding code, officials have said.

Without going to bid, Gasser paid $91 a ton – a rate much higher than what other area highway departments have paid. Cary spent $62, Woodstock paid $62, Fox River Grove spent $63, Crystal Lake paid $64, and McHenry Township paid $68. Gasser committed to pay a total $105,875 to Compass Minerals for the salt, which was delivered by the truckload Oct. 6, billing records show.

The township has consistently refused to foot the bill, with Lawrence saying it was out of fear that the board could be liable if the bidding process, or lack thereof, led to criminal charges.

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally previously sent the matter to the Illinois Attorney General's Office for review, citing conflicts of interest.

In a letter dated June 12, Richard Cenar, chief of public integrity at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, wrote that charges would not be filed against Gasser.

The news signaled a change of heart for Lawrence.

“If the act itself of purchasing no-bid salt was not a prosecutable offense, I do not believe that the Board’s approval of payment therefore also could be,” Lawrence wrote in her email. “Thus, my main concern of the Board of committing an unlawful act is eased.”

Leaving the bill unpaid could lead to bigger problems, too, particularly when it comes time to buy salt for the upcoming winter, Lawrence said.

“Another natural consequence of Commissioner Gasser’s oversight/mistake is the new information that the necessary salt procurement for the ’19/’20 Winter may be at risk due to vendors’ unwillingness to do business with the Road District without exorbitant prices per ton of material,” Lawrence wrote.

The township could be eligible for lower bids once the bill is paid, she said.

“When all of these factors are considered as a whole: the State’s Attorney’s decision, Andrew Gasser’s admissions of his errors and his attempt to correct them, the lack of precedent in this exact situation, the existing and future consequence of Mr. Gasser’s mistakes, etc., I now believe that the consequences to our constituents of not paying this bill greatly outweigh any potential liability risk to the board,” Lawrence wrote.