As commissioner is investigated, Bloomingdale Township voters to decide on ending road district
With federal investigators still looking into the actions of Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek, voters will determine this fall if they want the road district abolished and its duties taken over by the township.
Township officials said they put the binding question on the Nov. 3 ballot because the highway department is an independent unit of government with an elected highway commissioner who operates with little oversight from the township board.
"We don't think there is adequate board oversight of the road district because there isn't a separate board for the road district," Township Supervisor Michael Hovde Jr. said Wednesday.
Contrary to popular belief, Hovde said, the highway commissioner and road district employees don't report to the township board. And while the township board votes on the road district's annual budget and tax levy, its operations are separate.
"Contracts entered into by the road district are not subject to review or approval by the township board of trustees and township supervisor, no matter what the dollar amount," Hovde said.
A state law took effect in January 2018 that says townships can seek voter approval to absorb road districts into the rest of township government.
Bloomingdale Township officials were considering that option when FBI agents in January executed a search warrant at the road district office as part of a probe into Czernek's financial dealings as highway commissioner. At the time, township officials said the raid was related to "conduct within the highway department and a handful of its vendors."
Czernek, in his second term as highway commissioner, hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.
But Hovde acknowledges the investigation is "one of the reasons" the township board voted in June to put the consolidation question on the ballot.
"This was something that we had already thought about looking at," he said. "Obviously, the action that happened in January made us take a closer look."
The road district is responsible for 51 centerline miles of roads. It has a budget of $3.69 million for the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.
The ballot question will ask voters, "Shall the Road District of the Township of Bloomingdale be abolished with all the rights, powers, duties, assets, property, liabilities, obligations, and responsibilities being assumed by the Township of Bloomingdale?"
If the change is approved, it would take effect at the end of Czernek's term in May 2021.
Hovde says the geographic boundaries of the road district and the township are identical, and there would be no reduction in services.
"We're not planning on any cuts in services or doing anything dramatically different as far as day-to-day operations," he said.
The highway commissioner position would no longer be an elected post. It's unclear how the township would fill the $108,243-a-year job.