Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser has declared a salt shortage emergency, claiming that he may have to close various roads because of an inability to salt them – and he blamed township officials.
“The Algonquin Township board has refused to pay the Compass Minerals bill for salt,” Gasser said in a Friday memo. “By refusing to pay the bill, we now have an emergency situation with our salt supply well below 300 tons.”
The Northwest Herald could not reach Gasser for comment about the ramifications of the dwindling salt, but in a public post published to the road district Facebook page Tuesday night, Gasser said it is not his department’s fault if supplies empty.
“If we run out of salt, it is because of the trustees refusing to pay a legal bill and not because we didn’t act in time,” Gasser wrote. “Shame on the trustees for turning this into their political circus. ... If we run out of salt it’s on the trustees’ hands – not ours.”
A court document filed in McHenry County Circuit Court on Tuesday shed light on the highway commissioner’s position.
“Upon the depletion of salt, I may be forced to close the various roads of the road district due to the inability to salt the road to ensure public safety,” Gasser said in an affidavit filed Tuesday as part of an emergency motion to “command” the township board to approve payment to Compass Minerals.
Referring to Gasser, the highway department’s Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, alleged in the motion that “there are plenty of people looking to find fault in him.”
The lawyer characterized the township’s refusal to approve the salt bills as “obstructionism,” “petty” and “vindictive behavior” that left the highway department with a “seriously depleted road salt supply.”
The insufficient amount of salt is a “threat to the health, safety and welfare to the people of McHenry County,” Hanlon wrote.
As Gasser directed blame at the board, township trustees advised him to step down.
“It’s long past time for Andrew Gasser’s resignation so that a qualified person can replace and renew the integrity of the road district,” Trustee Rachael Lawrence said.
A circuit court judge will hear the matter at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, township attorney James Kelly said. He declined to comment further.
At the center of the road district emergency is a 54-truckload order of 1,161 tons of salt delivered to Algonquin Township in October and an unpaid bill from Kansas salt supplier Compass Minerals totaling more than $107,000.
On Jan. 9, Algonquin Township officials unanimously voted, 5-0, to table the Compass Minerals salt bill – a pending transaction that now is the focus of a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office official misconduct investigation. During a closed session on that January night, Gasser leveraged his cooperation in an unrelated lawsuit settlement to pressure township officials into approving payment for the salt.
The board will revisit the bill Wednesday night. Kelly confirmed that he will deliver an opinion as to whether the board should approve payment to Compass Minerals.
Gasser ordered a total of 2,500 tons of salt at $91 a ton – a $227,500 order – but the road commissioner did not go through the competitive bidding process in an apparent violation of the Illinois Highway Code.
State law states that when the cost of construction, materials, supplies, new machinery or equipment exceeds $20,000, the contract must go to the lowest responsible bidder.
In an email to Gasser on Jan. 24, the salt supplier threatened to pursue legal action and suspend the delivery of the remainder of the 2,500 tons of reserved salt if the company did not receive payment for past due bills.
Lawrence pegged the salt crisis on “Andrew Gasser’s complete and inexplicable lack of accountability and competence.”
“The highway commissioner has the power, in declared emergencies, to purchase necessary materials,” Lawrence said. “I can only hope, for the sake of our constituents’ safety, that there remains a vendor still willing to work with him after all this.”
The Algonquin Township board will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its offices, 3702 Route 14.