Des Plaines city council approved expenditures on lobbying services in Springfield at a meeting Monday, but limited the length of the contracts in order to reevaluate the performance of the firms.
Council members voted 7-0 in favor of entering short-term contracts, until July 1, with two of the three lobbying firms the city has previously paid to advocate for Des Plaines’ interests with regard to gaming and other issues that affect the city.
Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman said he had never seen a report from the lobbyist firms, nor had there been regular communication between aldermen and the representatives.
“Basically we don’t have meetings where we discuss with these gentlemen what they’ve done, or what our objectives and goals are — that just hasn’t happened,” Brookman said. “So I’m not happy about that at all. At the same time, to simply dismiss them without knowing their value, I think might not be prudent.”
Brookman said while he wasn’t happy with the situation, he was reluctant to discontinue their services without having another plan in place.
“I think we do need lobbyists,” Brookman said. “How much we spend; that’s something that we need to discuss.”
Des Plaines has contracted Government Consulting Services of Illinois for approximately 1.5 years, at a cost of $12,000 per year, according to city documents, McGuire-Woods Consulting for approximately a year at a cost of $19,200 per year, and Alfred G. Ronan for approximately two years at a cost of $60,000 per year. The city’s current budget includes $110,000 for lobbying services, according to city documents.
The city’s contract with McGuire-Woods expired in January, and the contract with Alfred G. Ronan would also run out if city council did not take any affirmative actions, said Michael Bartholomew, city manager. The contract with Government Consulting Services has an annual renewal date in October.
In memos from Bartholomew to acting Mayor Dick Sayad and aldermen, he stated that he recommended the city retain McGuire-Woods Consulting and Alfred G. Ronan from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.
Brookman said city council was never involved in the selection of lobbyists.
“We were told in executive session, these people are coming on; then we approved it,” Brookman said. “I don’t know their record; I don’t know how they compare to other people. I don’t know if we’re being charged fairly; we’re certainly not getting the reports we should get, because I’ve never seen a report.”
Legislation regarding gaming or anything else should not be under the private purview of the mayor, Brookman said. He said he supported contracting them for a shorter period of time so their performance could be evaluated, and then city council could choose which services it wanted to contract for.
“The problem is, I don’t know what they’ve been doing, because we haven’t been told, and I’m not happy about that,” Brookman said. “The council has been really in the dark.”
State Rep. Marty Moylan, former Des Plaines mayor, appeared before city council with representatives from all three firms.
Michael Cassidy, senior vice president of government affairs at McGuire-Woods Consulting, said most correspondence, including weekly updates, were directed to the mayor’s office until recently, when the city asked them to use the city manager as the key contact person.
“You said weekly updates; what are they?,” Sayad said. “The mayor’s office hasn’t been getting any updates; I don’t know who you’re directing them to.”
First Ward Alderman Patricia Haugeberg asked Bartholomew if he received reports from the lobbying firms.
“I’ve received reports, but they haven’t been the comprehensive reports that you’ve heard spoken of, and I spoke with McGuire-Woods about that,” Bartholomew said. “And it has to be a glitch in terms of emailing systems from going to the mayor, to the previous city manager and to me.”
Haugeberg asked Bartholomew how long he had been keeping track of the city’s lobbying efforts.
“I can tell you I’ve been close to it the last couple of weeks; I wouldn’t say for the past couple of years I have,” Bartholomew said.
Moylan said when he was mayor, every week, he and the city manager received a report from McGuire-Woods Consulting.
“Just so you know, [the reports were sent] to me, and the city manager’s office, and that’s the way it’s been going,” Moylan said. “It didn’t recently start; I’ve been getting a copy and he gets a copy.”
Eighth Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz asked why the city contracted three lobbying firms. Representatives from the firms said they spread out to attend multiple committee meetings at once, on a range of issues that could impact Des Plaines.
Charewicz said they were considering two different things when it came to lobbyist services: gaming issues and other city-related issues such as home rule, sales tax and others.
“I think we are unique when it comes to the casino,” Charewicz said. “Again, that’s one thing, and all this other stuff has to be pretty much the same with other municipalities. How can we piggyback on some of them, and is that even an option?”
It would be good to complete some research into options such as partnering with other municipalities for some of the lobbying work, Charewicz said.
Seventh Ward Alderman Dan Wilson asked Bartholomew if the thought the expenditure was proper, based on the city’s needs.
“I think a hundred thousand dollars in lobbyists is a worthwhile expense,” Bartholomew said.