Why pay lobbyist for job elected officials can do?

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Daniel Seltzer

Perhaps I'm missing something in your article, "Should Oak Park nix funding for Ike lobbyist?" [News, Oct. 20] You state that Oak Park is paying a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm "to help keep tabs on whether the feds may look at expanding the Eisenhower Expressway." To the tune of $171,000 last year, I should add! That's $171,000 to keep tabs on whether the federal government is looking to expand the Ike!?

Besides the fact that it sounds awful expensive for such a minor undertaking, it strikes me that Oak Park already has bodies on the ground in Washington, D.C., to keep tabs on the status of any proposed Ike expansion. Don't we citizens of Oak Park, as taxpayers, already pay Rep. Danny Davis and senators Durbin and Burris to protect our interests? [Editor's note: This piece was sent before the Nov. 2 election.]

Don't our congressmen employ staff to keep track of what's going on in Washington, D.C.? Why the heck are we paying anyone else to keep tabs on what's going on in government? If Davis and Durbin are incapable of performing a basic duty such as this, then perhaps we should exercise our power of authority and replace them at the next electoral opportunity. And Oak Park can certainly find out which, if any, of our current selection of candidates are capable of performing this simple task and advise the community which do and which do not at a cost far less than $171,000.

I also find it quite disturbing that Village Manager Tom Barwin is refusing to make the most recent reports from our highly paid lobbyist public. While such documents are, perhaps, exempt under the claim that they are protected under the pending or imminent litigation portion of the Freedom of Information Act, such exemption is not mandatory. I question the validity of the refusal to release these reports as it is certainly not clear under the FOIA statutes that the exemption pertains to very preliminary lobbyist reports regarding expanding the Ike. Eminent domain may not even be applicable to Oak Park, given the location of CTA and railway property.

In hard economic times such as these, it is shameful that Barwin is apparently protecting what appears to be a gross misjudgment of public funds. The fact that he alleges he saved the village $90,000 in 2009 under this contract is enough to question whether he should continue as our village manager. How can I trust someone who has budgeted more than $90,000 to pay someone for information which should be available for free from our elected officials? How can I trust someone who is not willing to produce information acquired through the expenditure of my tax dollars? Why is it that Barwin "is hesitant to kill the contract"? Is there some actual value the village receives?

Perhaps, but perhaps not. Of course, the citizens of Oak Park cannot make that determination since he refuses the FOIA requests pertaining to the work the village is paying for.

Daniel Seltzer is an Oak Park resident who says he is "tired of paying too much taxes in Oak Park." He lives on the first block south of the Ike on Kenilworth and is a part-time lawyer and researcher at Northwestern University.

Reader Comments

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OP Resident  

Posted: November 25th, 2010 12:18 AM

The fact that the Village has once again challenged a reasonable FOIA request is alarming but not surprising. The current trustees all pledged a commitment to transparency in government during their campaigns but stiffed the voters and residents once they snared a seat at the table. Barwin is just a slick operator who has bamboozled the trustees into believing that Oak Park can't make it without him. One of his schemes ended up costing us $250,000.

Carmen from Oak Park  

Posted: November 24th, 2010 6:06 PM

Thanks for this posting. Many of us have had the same thoughts. The staff of our Washington representatives should be able to provide us with legislative information about the Eisenhower. I would also think that IDOT keeps tabs on the same information, as well as CMAP -- both agencies that would likely share news with our village government if asked.

Donovan  

Posted: November 24th, 2010 8:42 AM

What is even more perplexing is the fact that the IL Attorney General's Office backed-up Barwin's refusal to respond to the FOIA.

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