Editorial: Bad government again on display in Island Lake
In years past, we and other critics have had frequent occasions to single out elected officials in Island Lake for censure on any number of controversies or behaviors we considered bad government.
Community leaders have been criticized for winking at transparency, allowing incendiary board infighting to lead to dysfunction and using power politics to reward supporters, punish opponents and waste taxpayer money.
For some time, the message was seeming to get through. Government in the village may not always have been pleasant and collegial, but it did seem to be conducted openly and ethically. That's why it's so important for the village to respond to a new controversy, this one involving Police Chief Anthony Sciarrone.
Sciarrone, village board members only recently learned, has been dipping into the patronage playbook to quietly reward a former campaign contributor with an exclusive towing contract without giving the village board an opportunity to vote on it.
"These actions totally undermine the government transparency and fairness platform that (I) ran on back in 2015," Trustee Sandy Doehler told our Russell Lissau last week.
She's one of several trustees who said they weren't aware of Sciarrone's sleight of hand, and want him to restart a rotation that includes at least two towing companies.
Add our voice to that call. Awarding the police towing business should be a fair, transparent process involving oversight by elected village board members, not a unilateral decision by a police chief with no political accountability.
The benefactor of Sciarrone's generosity is Mike's Towing, owned by Island Lake resident Mike Johnson, who donated $500 in the 2013 political campaign to the slate that included Mayor Charles Amrich, Sciarrone as a trustee candidate and others. The slate won, and Mike's was named the preferred towing vendor weeks after the election. That designation remained until 2017 when officials seeking a fairer and broader distribution of village business created a three-company towing rotation, including Mike's. But Sciarrone quietly eliminated that arrangement and made Mike's the exclusive vendor. Since November, Mike's has been the only firm police call when they need a car towed after a crash or for other reasons.
Sciarrone says Mike's has an auto storage facility in town, which is more convenient for local residents. He also says Mike's has a lot of equipment to handle various jobs. That may be true, but that's up to the elected village board to decide.
Village Attorney David McArdle said Sciarrone has the legal power to name a preferred towing vendor. But, a contract must be approved by the board and signed by the mayor.
In a twist of irony, Johnson sued the village in 2013, claiming a different towing company's status as the choice for auto removal was discriminatory and unconstitutional. He dropped the suit after he got the towing job. Now, some trustees fear a rival company could sue over the exclusive deal.
Whether a community is large or small, favoritism is bad for government. Island Lake has seen its negative effects firsthand in the form of divisive and unproductive politics. Village officials should act quickly and decisively to reaffirm the progress they've made toward more constructive leadership.