Island Lake Trustee Shannon Fox is calling for the police department to jettison its preferred towing company following a neighbor dispute involving the firm's owner.
The disagreement between Mike Johnson, owner of Mike's Towing, and Betty and Glenn Reckwerdt began four years ago and centers on the driveway that leads to the Reckwerdts' home on the 100 block of Bassler Drive.
The driveway runs through property Johnson owns, and he says it's in the wrong spot. The Reckwerdts disagree and say a court decision backs them up.
On Friday, Sept. 20, Johnson placed large, concrete blocks on the driveway and on the grass around it, making driving on it difficult. He said the blocks represented the path of where the driveway should be, according to a recent survey of the property.
Johnson moved the blocks Monday night following inquiries by the Daily Herald and Facebook posts about the situation by Fox and other residents. They now line the driveway and don't block it.
On Wednesday, Fox told the Daily Herald she wants the police department to stop using Mike's Towing to remove cars involved in traffic accidents or drunken driving arrests.
"I hope that this administration would consider not rewarding that type of behavior and suspend (the) use of Mike's Towing," Fox said in an email. "We need to send a message that bullying will not be tolerated. We don't do business that way in Island Lake."
Johnson doesn't have to worry about losing the village's business. The decision rests with Police Chief Don Bero, and he said he's not changing the department's arrangement.
"It's a civil issue," Bero said.
Based in Wauconda, Mike's Towing became the Island Lake Police Department's primary towing company this spring following Mayor Charles Amrich's election.
The deal is a gentlemen's agreement between Bero and Johnson. No contract exists, nor was a village board vote required.
Johnson supported Amrich in the April election, giving $500 to Amrich's slate, state campaign records show.
His firm replaced a rival company owned by one of Amrich's political opponents, former Island Lake Trustee Louis Sharp. Sharp supported incumbent Debbie Herrmann in the mayor's race and repeatedly tried to get Amrich kicked off the ballot.
Additionally, Johnson sued the village earlier this year in federal court, arguing the police department's use of Sharp Towing violated his civil rights. He dropped the lawsuit this summer after getting the job.
The Reckwerdts' asphalt driveway curves through the land in front of their home, passes a private lake and eventually connects with Bassler Drive.
All of the land once belonged to the Reckwerdts' family, but much of it was sold off years ago. The Reckwerdts retained ownership of their two-story house and an easement through the vacant land for their driveway.
The Reckwerdts had a similar dispute with a previous owner of the property in the 1990s. That time, the owner blocked the driveway with boulders, Betty Reckwerdt said.
The fight was resolved in the mid-1990s when a McHenry County judge said the driveway could stay, Reckwerdt said.
Betty Reckwerdt recalled telling Johnson about the easement before he bought the site in 2010. He had come to ask if they would move the driveway.
"We told him no," said Reckwerdt, 64. "We've had this driveway all these years."
Johnson said he's repeatedly asked the Reckwerdts to move the driveway. He wants to build an auto-repair business on his land, and the blacktop is in the way, he said.
He says he's offered to help pay for the work.
"I'm trying to be a good neighbor," Johnson said. "I treat those people like they're my parents."
Betty Reckwerdt acknowledged Johnson's requests. She said he'd been friendly during their encounters -- until last week.
Reckwerdt said the concrete obstacles made her home "(look) like a war zone."
"It made me mad," she said.
After the barricades went up, Bero told they Daily Herald his department wasn't going to intervene in the dispute.
"It's all private property over there," Bero said. "It's not in the public way."
Wauconda Fire Protection District Chief David Dato took the same stance.
"If they were blocking a public roadway, we would have more to say," Dato said.
Johnson said he decided to move the blocks Monday after talking with Trustee Keith Johns, an Amrich ally.
"The point is made now," Johnson said afterward.
Although angry about Johnson's actions, Fox said she was glad the Reckwerdts got some relief when the obstacles were moved.
"This is a matter that needs to be settled with rational, verbal communication and, probably, the McHenry County court system," Fox said.