CRYSTAL LAKE – Infighting within Algonquin Township came to a boiling point last week when a trustee accused the clerk of slamming a heavy office door into her body and bruising her arm in a spat over documents.
Township Trustee Rachael Lawrence called police to her office to sort out the incident involving township Clerk Karen Lukasik. At a public meeting Wednesday, Lawrence called for township officials to evaluate Lukasik’s competence as clerk.
“It is my hope that we can all move forward together in a spirit of cooperation and professionalism and that – much like the bruises on my arm, this township will heal,” Lawrence said.
The latest chapter of infighting has pushed Algonquin Township deeper into turmoil – annoying elected officials there during a political tiff one expert said could destroy the township’s reputation as a form of government.
On Nov. 7, a deputy from the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call from Algonquin Township headquarters and met with Lawrence.
The deputy got two sides of the story, said Sandra Rogers, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman: Lawrence said Lukasik slammed the door into her body. Lukasik told police that she asked Lawrence to leave her office, and as the clerk closed the door, Lawrence put her foot in the door and her foot got caught.
The sheriff’s office had not processed a report on the incident as of Friday, but the squabble landed no one in jail.
“At the time of call, nobody was charged,” Rogers said.
The sheriff’s deputy called Cary police for backup. The Cary officers made this note of the incident in their computer system, Deputy Chief Jim Fillmore said.
“[Rachael Lawrence] was involved in an incident with the township clerk where the clerk slammed the door in her face after she asked for some documents.”
The fight seemed to be an in-house political tiff, police said.
“Nobody got arrested,” Fillmore said.
At Wednesday’s township meeting, speaking into a microphone in front of township officials and Algonquin Township residents, Lawrence described the event as one that made her fear for her safety.
“For over two weeks, I’ve asked the clerk on no less than three occasions for copies of a specific vendor’s bills from months past, which even now have still not been produced,” Lawrence said. “I finally received a response promising the documents yesterday, but when I saw the clerk in her office – for the second time, by the way, since we’ve been elected, it was only the second time I’ve ever seen her here – I was met with extreme hostility, a demand to quote, ‘FOIA them if you want them so bad.’ Quote: ‘Why do you need them anyway?’ And the hurling of other vitriolic insults, which ultimately culminated in a solid oak door, which weighed more than I do, being slammed into my body, causing bruising on my left arm.”
A woman in the audience yelled: “Then why are the police not doing anything about it? Why is this being brought up?”
Another woman yelled: “Why are you speaking? It’s not your turn.”
Lawrence continued her story.
“Although the clerk’s office displays the signs stating that her office is under video and audio surveillance, and although she has been quoted in a newspaper article saying that she had placed cameras in her office, and despite the presence of a clearly visible white Samsung camera in her office for which there are documented receipts,” Lawrence said, “she stated to the police yesterday ... that there was no surveillance footage of the incident, and thus no charges were filed.”
As Lukasik sat in silence, Lawrence hammered the clerk for not fulfilling records requests for residents and not attending bid openings for road district projects.
“I’d like to officially request an item be added to next month’s meeting agenda to address the clerk’s ability to perform her official duties, fulfill the document requests of this board, and of the public and ensure the safety of all individuals in contact with her,” Lawrence said.
A woman in the audience yelled, “Can we see the bruises?”
“Yes, you can,” Lawrence said. “See me after the meeting.”
The clerk sat in silence at the meeting, but Lukasik shared her side of the story with the Northwest Herald.
“I tried to diffuse the situation, I asked her to leave,” Lukasik said. “I closed the door, and she put her foot in there. She blocked me in the door. I walked past her and brushed up against her. Now she says she’s got a bruise. Report it. If you’re going to block somebody in, what do you want me to do? It’s like those people who jump in front of a car. What are you trying to do? Get an insurance claim?”
Embattled in a lawsuit against Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser over allegations that she intended to destroy township documents to cover up wrongdoing by his predecessor, Bob Miller, Lukasik said bickering has been a constant since she took office.
“She constantly tries to bait me to react to her actions,” Lukasik said. “I didn’t do anything to her. If she would leave me alone and let me do my job, I would work just fine with her.”
Since Lukasik took office in May, the clerk has spent $40,719.53 on legal services, according to October financial records. Gasser has spent $135,676.40 for lawyers working on multiple lawsuits – already $40,000 more than the road district’s total annual budget for legal fees.
The infighting has annoyed Township Trustee Dave Chapman, who said he wishes everyone could get along and focus on doing right by taxpayers.
“Everybody flies to the extreme rather than trying to find things we have common ground on,” Chapman said. “That’s what’s happening in our township and that’s what’s happening in our country. We need to find common ground. It’s going to be tough sometimes, but that’s what we need to do to serve our residents.”
The infighting, Chapman said, has done nothing but distract elected officials from doing their jobs.
“We need to stop going for the throat,” Chapman said.
Little can be gained from petty politics — a practice that could lead to the demise of a township, said Kurt Thurmaier, director of Northern Illinois University’s Division of Public Administration.
“These are the kinds of squabbles that lead people to ask why do we even have Algonquin Township?” Thurmaier said. “If the township is spending township tax dollars on political squabbles and infighting, what’s the added value of having this elected body if the same jobs could be done as effectively by the county?”