Nepotistic hires highlight township government waste

Nepotistic hires highlight township government waste

Two McHenry County highway commissioners hired each other’s sons to township government positions in 2017. Despite concerns of nepotism, these practices are not uncommon in township government.

Despite a long history of nepotism in Algonquin Township, trustees rejected consideration of a resolution June 13 that would have renewed the township’s commitment to eliminating the practice.

The resolution tabled by township trustees would have asked members of the Algonquin Township Board to forbid nepotism “in governmental hiring and contracting processes” and remain “dedicated to the elimination of nepotism.” Trustees’ rejection of the measure comes following years of family patronage hiring in the township highway department, and a scathing investigative report from the McHenry County state’s attorney into criminal allegations against former Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally didn’t bring criminal charges against Miller. But his report did offer an indictment of townships, characterizing the form of government as overrun with “incompetence, guile and impropriety.” Though not an explicit feature of the state’s attorney’s report, nepotism has ranked chief among townships’ improprieties. Hiring family members to high-priced positions had been a controversial hallmark of Miller’s 24-year career as highway commissioner, and it’s a charge that extends to townships beyond just Algonquin.

Families finding favor

After losing reelection in 2017, Miller and his recently ousted sons-in-law – Andrew Rosencrans and Derek Lee – were quick to find employment at nearby townships. Miller, Rosencrans and Lee have each been employed by Nunda Township since leaving Algonquin Township. At one point, the three had been listed on the township’s payroll simultaneously. Miller also established a “local government consulting firm” that billed neighboring McHenry Township at least $480 for services in 2017.

Nunda and McHenry townships’ questionable hiring practices go beyond their affiliations with Miller and his relatives. The two townships’ engagement with one another might also catch the eye of local taxpayers.

McHenry Township Highway Commissioner Jim Condon hired Benton Lesperance, the son of Nunda Township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance, to a full-time position with a pension in November 2017. The position was not advertised to the public, Condon told McHenry Township trustees at an April board meeting. This appeared to be reciprocal: Nunda Township hired Mitchell Condon, Jim Condon’s son, the same year. The younger Condon had been terminated by the end of last year, however.

But Nunda Township – also the subject of a criminal investigation – has engaged in other recent patronage hires, as well. Mike Lesperance’s stepfather Fred Space is listed as a part-time employee, and township supervisor Leda Drain’s daughter worked for the township in 2017.

Mike Lesperance has continued to commission Miller as a consultant at a $40-per-hour rate, while furnishing Miller’s son-in-law, Lee, with a full-time position earning at least $48,000 as of May 2018, records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request show.

Another Miller son-in-law, Rosencrans, left Nunda Township but has been employed full-time by Wauconda Township since July 2017, earning more than $40,000. Rosencrans is also enrolled in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, and receives an allowance for a phone and clothing, according to the township.

Patronage hiring isn’t the only thing these townships have in common. They also share an opposition to cost-saving reforms that would benefit taxpayers. McHenry Township has been a particularly contentious battleground in this fight.

Fight for consolidation

McHenry Township Trustee Bob Anderson addressed Condon at an April board meeting over the hiring of Benton Lesperance and his relation to the Nunda Township highway commissioner.

“[Benton] is [Mike’s] son,” Condon said. “Do you have a problem with that?”

Miller’s contract with the township also came under fire, when township trustee Bill Cunningham asked Condon why trustees hadn’t been informed of the decision to commission the services of the former Algonquin Township official.

“When did you ask?” Condon quipped back.

Anderson successfully led an effort to get a referendum on the November ballot that would give voters the option to abolish McHenry Township’s road district. Anderson has been working toward consolidation of local government for more than two decades – and has at times met significant pushback. He has faced intimidation tactics, finding nails placed behind his car, as well as political hurdles, with state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, introducing a measure that would create more barriers to consolidation.

But Anderson has not backed down. Elected as a McHenry Township trustee in 2017, Anderson’s proposed consolidation referendum was finally approved by a 3-2 vote at a board meeting in February. Its passage, though, was met with considerable opposition: Township officials from across the county flooded the room. Among them, according to Anderson, were Nunda Township’s Lesperance and Wauconda Township Highway Commissioner Scott Weisbruch.

Township officials have even taken their opposition to Springfield. In April, more than 100 officials representing township governments filed their opposition to House Bill 3133, according to witness slips displayed on the General Assembly’s website. HB 3133, filed by state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, would allow Illinoisans to consolidate townships through voter referendum, brought either by citizen petition or county board ordinance. The bill has been in the House Rules Committee since April 13.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has advanced a version of Yingling’s bill that would also create an easier path toward consolidation. Applying strictly to McHenry County, House Bill 4637 would relax the burdensome requirements that come with getting a binding consolidation referendum onto a ballot. As it stands now, to eliminate a township through referendum, voters are required to collect petition signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in each township in the county. HB 4637 reduces the signature requirement to a number amounting to just 5 percent of voters who voted in the last comparable election – only in the township for which consolidation is being pursued. McSweeney’s bill passed the House April 17 by an 80-22 margin but has yet to be called for a vote in the Senate.

The bill’s success in the House came despite the efforts of some township-aligned lawmakers. Among the 22 votes cast against HB 4637 were Reick; state Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, who also serves as Rich Township Supervisor; and state Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, a former Emmet Township supervisor and trustee. Among those who abstained from voting was state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, who formerly served as executive director of the McHenry County Council of Governments, an advocacy organization for local governments in McHenry County.

With more than 1,400 townships in Illinois, there are too many entrenched officials interested in preserving this layer of government at the expense of taxpayers. Townships frequently duplicate services already provided by other local governments, adding unnecessary costs for Illinois taxpayers. Meanwhile, for many township officials – like some employed by Algonquin, Nunda and McHenry townships – townships serve as jobs programs with rewarding political connections.

This pattern of patronage is just one reason taxpayers should have the choice to consolidate their townships. In many McHenry County townships – where taxpayers are some of the most overburdened in the state – that choice would be a welcome change.

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