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updated: 5/22/2013 3:39 PM

Island Lake cops change tow firms; Amrich denies pay to play

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  • Chief Don Bero

      Chief Don Bero

  • Louis Sharp

      Louis Sharp

  • Charles Amrich

      Charles Amrich

 
 

Island Lake Police Chief Don Bero has changed the department's preferred towing firm, ditching the company run by a political enemy of Mayor Charles Amrich.

The company that now has the gig is owned by an Island Lake resident who donated to Amrich's political committee, state records show.

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It's the second time this month a company owned by an Amrich opponent has lost a lucrative municipal deal.

It's also the second time someone who contributed to Amrich's campaign received work in town since Amrich was sworn in May 9.

Amrich denied it's a case of pay-to-play politics.

Sharp Towing, co-owned by former village Trustee Louis Sharp, has been given the boot. The company has been replaced as the police department's top choice for tows by Mike's Towing of Wauconda.

The deal is a gentleman's agreement. No contract exists, nor is a village board vote required.

Mike's has a storage facility in Island Lake where it will bring vehicles removed from wrecks and DUI stops, Bero said.

Bero said he personally told Sharp last week he was out. He said the change was his decision.

"I want to give this tow outfit a try and see how it is," Bero told the Daily Herald. "It's only fair."

Amrich confirmed he left the matter to Bero.

"Whatever is best for the department," Amrich said.

Sharp declined to comment. Company co-owner Sean McDonald defended his business.

"In the last 2 years and over 400 tows, we never had a single complaint filed against us," McDonald said.

Trustee Shannon Fox called the move political payback.

"It absolutely seems that anyone who was against Amrich in any way is out and that those people who were in support are in," Fox said. "I'm worried about the effect that it will have on the community, on its spirit and the quality of the services that we provide."

Trustee Keith Johns, an Amrich ally, supported the switch to Mike's Towing. Sharp will be a backup if a truck from Mike's isn't available, Johns said.

"That's no different than it is now, except it's the opposite," he said.

Mike's Towing, which is co-owned by Island Lake resident Mike Johnson, was founded in 1986. It last towed a car for Island Lake police in September 2011, according to court records.

The company sued the village in federal court in late March, objecting to Sharp Towing's status as the police department's choice for auto removal.

The lawsuit says the village's preference for Sharp Towing violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection guarantees, which were enacted after the Civil War but have been cited in cases that didn't involve race.

The lawsuit is still moving forward, Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson said he is happy his company will be getting work in town.

"It's nice that the new administration is open-minded enough to give us a try," he said.

Sharp and fellow resident Daniel Field filed objections to Amrich's candidacy in unsuccessful efforts to remove him from the April 9 ballot. A Lake County judge ruled Amrich's candidacy was valid and he overwhelmingly defeated incumbent Debbie Herrmann.

Sharp and Field have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Field lost a computer-consulting contract with the village after Amrich won the election. He was let go by Herrmann before she left office, but Amrich eliminated a 30-day notice period the day after he took over.

When asked, Amrich denied that action was political.

Illinois State Board of Elections records show Johnson donated $500 to the For the People campaign slate led by Amrich.

The donation didn't result in Mike's improved status at village hall, Johns said.

"There's absolutely no pay to play," Johns said. "With a new administration comes new changes. We're giving another Island Lake business a chance."

The town's new law firm -- Zukowski, Rogers, Flood and McArdle -- also contributed to the For the People slate, donating legal services during the campaign. Those donations totaled $8,500, records show.

Before Election Day, when the Daily Herald asked attorney David McArdle if the donations were part of an effort to become the village's lawyer, he said the Crystal Lake firm wanted to be considered for the job.

No other firm was publicly considered for the post.

Two other Amrich foes have left Island Lake since Election Day. Former Police Chief William McCorkle and the Ancel Glink law firm both resigned before Amrich could fire them, as he'd promised to do.

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