Barry Fues has lived in Algonquin Township for 40 years. In that time, he never attended a township meeting to address trustees who handle his tax dollars.
That changed Wednesday night.
“For 39 of those years, I thought everything was great,” Fues said during public comment.
The last year, he said, has turned into a “nightmare.”
The 80-year-old resident said it has everything to do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills from multiple McHenry County attorneys representing multiple Algonquin Township officials in several lawsuits.
Fues placed blame on one official: Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser, who did not attend the meeting.
“This guy has cost our township so much money, and it’s on a personal vendetta that I don’t think any one of us is interested in,” Fues said of Gasser’s efforts to uncover alleged corruption hidden in the highway department’s financials by former highway commissioner Bob Miller. “I wouldn’t know Bob Miller if he walked in the room right now. But I’ll tell you what: I’d take him back in a heartbeat.”
Legal fees inside the department are at the center of an expensive narrative trustees fear has no end in sight.
“I’m very concerned about the legal fees,” Trustee Melissa Victor said.
Township officials spent $478,892 to pay for legal counsel in multiple lawsuits.
Gasser now plans to stock the highway department’s war chest to prepare for more courtroom battles.
The highway commissioner’s legal defense fund took center stage at several points during the meeting as trustees opened discussions about the shaping of next year’s road and bridge budgets.
The highway department had a $17,164 budget for legal fees at the start of fiscal 2018. By the end of it, it had spent $284,771.
Now the department has proposed budgeting $250,000 for legal fees in 2019.
The legal fund merry-go-round has been exhausting for many township officials.
“I’m also very upset with the massive amount of legal spending,” Trustee Dan Shea said.
Supervisor Charles Lutzow said it’s “a horrible situation,” but officials are taking steps to stop the legal battles.
“We work very hard, at least on the township side, to get along and stop any of this inner squabbling,” Lutzow said.
Rachael Lawrence was the lone trustee who stood in support of the legal fees paid to Gasser’s attorney, Robert Hanlon.
Since June, the Woodstock lawyer has billed the highway department more than $200,000.
“If we don’t put it in the budget and refuse to pay it, we run the risk of being sued, and not only paying the original amount,” Lawrence said, “but our legal bills defending it, as well as Hanlon’s legal bills.”
Fues summed up his comments about taxpayer dollars paying lawyers: “The only person who is making any money on this is Mr. Gasser’s legal counsel. The rest of us are paying for it, and I think it’s ridiculous.”