MacKay calls allegations ‘baseless’

The political pot is boiling over into controversy again at the Rockford Township Highway Department, which seems to be a traditional temperature and fare for that entity as past commissioners from Lee Rucker, Jerry Tassoni, Shirley Scherer to Ron Swanson can attest.

Rockford Township Highway employee Charles Williams leveled nine allegations of “unethical practices” against “the Rockford Township Highway Commissioner management team.” Rockford Township Highway Commissioner and Winnebago County Board member Pete MacKay (R-5) called the allegations “baseless,” and vowed to take legal action against Williams.

Williams held a press conference Oct. 6 that was organized by Chicago-area GOP pollster and researcher Rod McColloch. He was Rockford resident John Borling’s U.S. Senate campaign director during the Republican primary race earlier this year.

Borling fired McColloch in March for informing Chicago media he had seen copies of opponent Jack Ryan’s sealed divorce file from actress Jeri Ryan. The file contained embarrassing sex allegations that led to Ryan dropping out of the U.S. Senate race, which paved the way for State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) to add Alan Keyes as Ryan’s Republican replacement against Democrat Barack Obama.

Williams said McColloch assisted him in drafting a letter that he sent to 18 public officials, including Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli. However, Williams said Oct. 11 that no one has contacted him about any investigation into the allegations.

Logli did not return messages for comment. However, Logli told other media he would investigate Williams’ allegations despite the problems that have arisen by the way Williams lodged his complaint.

Williams said McColloch helped him write the press release that contained the allegations, which was sent to media last week.

Williams contacted McColloch after consulting with former Rockford Township Highway Commissioner Ronald F. Swanson Jr., who was acquitted in 2001 on charges of theft and official misconduct in connection with his tenure as highway commissioner from 1997 to 2001. Swanson could not be contacted for comment for this article.

Williams said he worked under Swanson and went to him for advice and counsel on how to address his concerns. Williams and McColloch said Swanson encouraged Williams to contact McColloch on how to proceed with the complaint. Williams said no other individuals advised him to make his concerns public.

Williams was hired by Swanson as a part-time employee. However, he was made a full-time employee by Swanson in the last days of Swanson’s tenure after he lost the 2001 election to MacKay.

MacKay came in and said that Williams could not be a full-time employee because the township’s union contract requires that part-time employees become full-time employees on the basis of seniority.

According to township officials, the two part-time employees that had more seniority than Williams filed a grievance with the union. The union then entered into arbitration with the state labor board. The state ruled that the grievance was correct, and Williams was returned to part-time employee status.

Williams said he did not meet with the highway management team of MacKay, Brad Trent and Kenneth Blakely to voice his nine concerns before going public because he feared retribution. Williams also said he did not meet privately with Logli to discuss his allegations before releasing them to the media.

Logli was reportedly upset with the public accusations because it would hamper any investigation into supposed wrongdoings.

Among Williams’ allegations:

Workers were allowed to leave work early and were then punched out later in the day by management. MacKay said workers were allowed to leave before the end of the regular work day because they had worked through lunch and legally required breaks.

Allowed employees to use township equipment for personal use with little accountability. MacKay acknowledged he let an employee borrow a wood splitter, and that state police had investigated the charge and found it to be “baseless.”

Avoided competitive bid laws by separating invoices for road salt equipment into smaller amounts to avoid the $10,000 limit on purchase of materials and equipment. MacKay responded by saying the allegation was an “out and out lie.”

MacKay questioned the timing of the allegations since he is running for re-election on the County Board next month, and for highway commissioner next year. Williams and McColloch speculated that Swanson may run for MacKay’s position as highway commissioner.

MacKay has been very critical of fellow Republicans in several articles that have been published in The Rock River Times. The most recent criticisms were of Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen’s hiring of Sue Mroz as director of Regional Planning and Economic Development (see Sept. 15 article “County chairman’s cronyism” and July 28 article “County Board: No referendum on road bonds”).

Frank Schier, editor and publisher, contributed to this article.

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