Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling says he was shut out of the process that resulted in a recent $450,000 settlement of a political firings lawsuit.
Had he been consulted by an insurance pool attorney hired to handle the federal suit against the township, Yingling said, he would have favored going to trial with the workers who claimed they lost their jobs for supporting the opponent of former assessor Bryce Carus in the 2009 election.
"Why were they so quick to enter into a backroom agreement with the plaintiffs, cut the township out of it and not even give the township the right to carry on with the litigation?" Yingling said in his first extended public comment on the deal.
Four former assessor's office employees split the $450,000 they received to settle the federal suit last month. The case was filed in January 2010 against Avon Township and Carus.
Yingling, a Round Lake Beach Democrat now running for a state representative seat, said the township submitted a written objection to the settlement last month.
Gregory Rogus, an attorney hired by Township Officials of Illinois Risk Management Association to represent Avon, declined to comment on Yingling's accusations, as did association Executive Director Rod Beck. Townships across Illinois provide money to the association for insurance to protect each other from losses.
In a previous interview, Rogus said the settlement was the best conclusion to the case, noting that Avon Township didn't admit guilt.
However, Keith Hunt, who represented the former township workers, disputes Yingling's claims, saying Rogus wouldn't have cut a deal without the supervisor's input.
Hunt said U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang referred the suit for settlement negotiations with the guidance of Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. The strict process under Keys didn't allow for lawyers to settle the suit on their own, Hunt said.
"Gregory Rogus is an honest and highly competent lawyer," he added. "And there is absolutely no truth to Yingling's accusations."
Avon is contesting a demand to pay a $60,000 deductible to Township Officials of Illinois Risk Management Association, arguing that the settlement was unwanted.
"The township was not included in the settlement conference negotiations with the plaintiffs. ... The (Avon) board of trustees finds the amount of $450,000 to be an outrageous amount under these circumstances," Avon Township Attorney Gerald Dietz wrote in a letter Nov. 17 explaining the refusal to pay.
Yingling, who said he was caught off guard by the settlement, contends it could have been shown at a trial the employees were political appointees and the lawsuit was frivolous.
But Hunt said the workers were not political hires who had to take an oath of office. However, Yingling produced documents he contends were oaths signed by the employees.
All four workers in the suit supported former assessor Rick Dishman over Carus in the April 2009 election and claimed they were fired as political retribution. Carus resigned six months ago, citing health reasons.
William Rust, Penelope Heckel, Janice Roth and Rick Dishman's brother, Michael, filed the lawsuit. Michael Dishman, Heckel and Rust were fired by Carus when he took over in January 2010, while Roth retired on belief she'd be sacked for political reasons, court documents say.
Documents show Heckel received $200,000, with $120,000 going to Rust, $100,000 for Michael Dishman and $30,000 to Roth.
Yingling speculates the hefty settlement may have been struck to make him look bad because he's in a Democratic state representative primary in March and has called for a dismantling of township government.
In April, he wrote a Daily Herald guest column on how the biggest obstacle to reform is Township Officials of Illinois, a lobbying group connected to the organization that hired Avon's attorney for the lawsuit.
"I certainly think they have been able to see the momentum I have been able to build for township reform as a township supervisor and they have adamantly opposed that," Yingling said. "And I think having a state representative who's advocating for township reform scares them."
Avon Township encompasses all or part of Grayslake, Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Heights, Third Lake and unincorporated Lake County.