McHenry County state’s attorney: Consolidate townships

McHenry County state’s attorney: Consolidate townships

An investigation into the office of a former township official concluded with no criminal charges. But the probe did find evidence that calls into question the merits of township governance.

A seven-month investigation into improper spending allegations against former Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller concluded with a report issued May 31, in which McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally determined there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

The investigation stemmed from a long list of allegations involving the misuse of taxpayer funds during Miller’s 24 years as highway commissioner. Miller was accused of using taxpayer money to pay for personal items – such as Disneyland tickets, women’s clothing and alcoholic beverages – as well as paying employees illegal bonuses. Allegations of improper spending and nepotism set the stage for Miller’s reelection loss in 2017.

And while Kenneally did not find enough evidence to indict Miller, he did find enough evidence to draw one conclusion about the position he formerly held: It shouldn’t exist. Kenneally’s report recommended abolishing the highway department and consolidating the township with other local units of government. Describing a climate of “incompetence, guile and impropriety,” Kenneally’s report criticized townships as a “deeply flawed” form of government.

Kenneally’s recommendations would be a welcome change for McHenry County taxpayers, who pay among the highest property taxes in the state. Some of those property taxes are levied by townships, for services that might be performed more efficiently at the city or county level.

Kenneally’s recommendation is also significant given that McHenry County is ground zero for consolidation this year.

McHenry Township trustee Bob Anderson, a Wonder Lake barber, led an effort to get a referendum question to consolidate his township road district on the November ballot. That effort had been decades in the making, with several hurdles along the way. Long before he was a trustee, Anderson tried twice in the 1990s to advance consolidation measures – first, to dissolve all townships in McHenry County, and on the second attempt, just McHenry Township. Both attempts, however, failed.

But he went a different route in 2017. Anderson ran for McHenry Township board on a platform primarily focused on consolidation – and won. And in February, Anderson succeeded in landing a binding consolidation referendum on this year’s November ballot, giving voters in McHenry Township the option to eliminate their road district and consolidate its services with the township.

But just to give taxpayers that choice, Anderson has had to endure intimidation tactics and threats, including finding nails scattered both in the parking lot of his barbershop and his driveway at home.

Fortunately for taxpayers, Anderson’s success could set an important precedent in McHenry County and across the state. With more than 1,400 townships, waste and patronage can surface anywhere in Illinois, not just Algonquin Township. McHenry Township and other nearby McHenry County townships offer proof. Nunda and Grafton Townships – both in McHenry County – are also under investigation for misuse of taxpayer funds. And patronage hires, which appeared commonplace in Algonquin Township, can be found throughout other townships as well.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, cited such abuses in sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for voters in McHenry County to consolidate their townships. As it stands now, to get a binding consolidation referendum onto a ballot, voters need a petition signed by 10 percent of registered voters from each township in the county. McSweeney’s proposal would only require petition signatures from voters within the township subject to consolidation, amounting to just 5 percent of votes cast in the last comparable election. That bill, House Bill 4637, passed the House by an 80-22 margin April 17 and still awaits a vote in the Senate. Given its potential for taxpayer savings, state senators shouldn’t have to think twice about advancing this measure.

Consolidation in McHenry County would be no small feat. The General Assembly’s inaction and threats against advocates like Anderson are just two challenges that have put taxpayers at a disadvantage.

But having spent months digging into Algonquin Township’s finances, Kenneally’s recommendation to consolidate is telling. And to McHenry County taxpayers – who pay some of the highest property tax bills in the state – it’s a recommendation that makes sense.

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