An election loss in 2009 didn't keep a candidate from gaining the four-year highway commissioner job he wanted in Lake County.
Thomas Brust was appointed by a political ally last week to fill the final three years of a term as Avon Township's road boss in the Grayslake and Round Lake areas. Brust replaces the man who beat him last year, the recently retired Patrick Anderson.
Some on the township board say Brust's appointment was pure politics and the best candidate didn't become highway commissioner. The opponents said a 26-year Avon Township Highway Department employee who applied deserved the top post
However, Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling said politics didn't play into Brust's appointment. Brust was part of Yingling's Avon Forward political team in the 2009 election.
Yingling said he favored Brust over seven other candidates, in part because he'll bring a different perspective as an outsider stepping in as highway commissioner.
"Some of the things about Mr. Brust that impress me is that out of all candidates under consideration, he is a gentleman who has always shown up to the meetings and has actively participated," Yingling said.
Township board members voted 3-2 in favor of Brust at a special meeting July 26. Yingling and trustees Chris Ditton and Marc Feldstein were in favor of the appointment, while trustees Sherry Ridge and William McNeill opposed it.
Along with Yingling and Brust, the Avon Forward political slate last year included Ditton, Feldstein, Ridge, Clerk Lisa Rusch and Assessor Bryce Carus. McNeill and Anderson were on the Avon One team that former township supervisor Shirley Christian headed.
McNeill and Ridge pushed for 26-year highway department employee Robert Kula to become commissioner. Kula was the most qualified of the eight applicants who were reviewed by township board members, McNeill said.
Ridge said Kula had letters of recommendation from seven municipalities, homeowners associations and others within Avon Township, and that he's done a good job at the highway department. Kula couldn't be reached for comment.
In addition, Ridge said she interpreted legal advice on the highway commissioner appointment to mean the selected candidate could not come from the Avon Forward political team because of Brust's loss, but rather from the Avon One side.
Ridge said she considers Brust to be a good man and community member, but his appointment by Yingling was more about politics than appointing the best candidate for highway commissioner. She said one interview question to job candidates regarding township-owned property was an Avon Forward campaign platform issue last year, which would have benefited an insider.
"This process was a farce," Ridge said.
But some government watchdogs say politically connected hiring is not always bad.
Joseph Calomino, director of the Americans for Prosperity government watchdog group's Illinois chapter, said politicians often want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. Still, he added, a politician should not select someone with questionable credentials.
"It leaves it open for scrutiny and criticism," Calomino said.
Anderson topped Brust by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin in the April 2009 election. Anderson collected 3,313 votes to Brust's 2,816.
In early July, Avon Township began publicly soliciting replacements for Anderson following his retirement after 25 years as highway commissioner.
Highway commissioner candidates were informed the job requirements included experience in management, construction, transportation and heavy equipment. Being an Avon Township resident and a registered voter also were necessary.
Brust's resume shows he's been a winter temporary employee for the Illinois Department of Transportation since 2005 and has owned Tom's Mechanical Systems for two years. He drove concrete and other trucks from 1997 to 2009.
At IDOT, Brust's duties have included safety inspections of vehicles, tree removal and supervising road crews. Yingling cited Brust's work at IDOT in hiring him.
"I look forward to serving the people of Avon Township," was all Brust would say in an e-mail.
Yingling said appointing Brust was a difficult decision. He said Brust fits into his effort to run a financially responsible Avon Township government.
"Mr. Brust came within a few points of winning, but what's more important is he was the only applicant under consideration who was committed to reducing spending and the highway (department's) tax levies," Yingling said.
Brust, whose term expires May 20, 2013, gained a job paying more than $61,000 a year. Annual 4 percent raises have been established for highway commissioner.
Avon encompasses all or part of Grayslake, Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Heights, Third Lake and unincorporated Lake County. The highway department handles unincorporated roads.