Island Lake trustees object to politically connected towing firm getting exclusive contract
Island Lake Police Chief Anthony Sciarrone wants a company whose owner donated money to his 2013 political campaign to be the exclusive tow-truck operator for the department -- but some trustees are standing in his way.
Since November 2017, Mike's Towing has been the only firm police officers call when they need a car towed after a crash or for other reasons.
Mike's Towing, which is headquartered in Wauconda but also has a facility in Island Lake, previously had been one of three companies that rotated handling tows for Island Lake police. The other two were Patriot Towing & Recovery of Fox Lake and Whitey's Towing of Crystal Lake.
But Sciarrone tossed that arrangement and named Mike's Towing the village's exclusive tow company, with Mayor Charles Amrich's blessing, according to village documents obtained by the Daily Herald.
The village board never voted on the change. Trustee Sandy Doehler said she and other board members weren't aware of it until earlier this year.
"These actions totally undermine the government transparency and fairness platform that (I) ran on back in 2015," she said.
Doehler and trustees Mark Beeson, John Burke and Charles Cermak have requested Sciarrone arrange a rotation that includes at least two towing companies.
"I won't approve a contract unless it's a rotation," Burke said.
Mike's Towing is owned by Island Lake resident Mike Johnson, who financially supported Sciarrone's and Amrich's successful runs for village office in 2013.
Johnson gave $500 to Amrich's For the People slate that February, Illinois State Board of Elections records show. Sciarrone, then a McHenry County court security officer, was among the slate's trustee candidates, as were Beeson and Keith Johns. All won election in a landslide.
Mike's Towing was named the police department's preferred vendor for tows within weeks of Amrich and his allies taking office, and that arrangement lasted until the three-way rotation formed last year, officials said.
Sciarrone resigned as trustee and was appointed police chief in 2015 after Don Bero's departure.
When asked if he thinks the deal with Mike's Towing is an example of political patronage, Burke said, "it's not a pretty thing to look at."
Johnson said he made the political donation because he believes in supporting the town in which he lives and does business.
"We hardly feel like the modest amount of $500 constitutes 'pay for play,'" Johnson said. "We give time and money donations to many different local associations."
Doehler objects to Sciarrone having the ability to hire or fire a towing company without board approval.
"I don't see how a municipality can just say 'OK, chief, hire whoever you want with no contract or fee schedule,'" she said. "(The) last time I checked, a council or governing body makes contracts on behalf of a municipality."
Sciarrone has the legal power to name a preferred towing vendor, village attorney David McArdle has said. But any contract must be approved by the board and signed by the mayor, he said.
Sciarrone said he favors Mike's Towing because the company uses an auto storage facility in town, which is convenient for local residents needing to retrieve their cars. He also said Mike's has a lot of equipment that can handle various jobs.
Amrich said he supports Sciarrone's decision.
Mike's Towing is no stranger to controversy in Island Lake.
In early 2013, Johnson sued the village in federal court, claiming a different towing company's status as the police department's choice for auto removal was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Johnson dropped the lawsuit after Amrich took office and his firm got the towing job in town.
Cermak said he fears a rival towing company could sue Island Lake if Mike's Towing gets an exclusive deal.
Doehler said it would be "extremely hypocritical" to award Johnson's company an exclusive contract considering he once sued the village over an exclusive contract with a different firm.