Oak Park trustees raise questions on 'cap-the-Ike' lobbyist

Elected officials continue questioning funding for D.C. law firm

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

A village trustee continued pushing to kill, or, at least, surface more information about, a lobbyist contract Thursday night. Over a period of seven years, the contract to provide the village with insight about possible plans to expand the Eisenhower Expressway has totaled more than $1.3 million. Now it appears that other Oak Park trustees are joining the chorus.

Trustee Ray Johnson has raised the issue in recent weeks. But Thursday night during a village budget study session, Trustee Glenn Brewer raised questions about the contract. A third trustee, Jon Hale also expressed concern about the contract.

Some $180,000 is budgeted next year for the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, and Brewer asked whether Oak Park has been getting its money worth for the long-running expense, which is projected at the same cost over the next five years.

"Are we getting reports that suggest we should be continuing to pay a consultant that kind of money?" Brewer said.

For the past seven years, Oak Park has been paying a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., to help keep tabs on whether the feds may look at expanding the Eisenhower Expressway. Oak Park started its partnership with Nossaman LLP in 2003. The firm was hired to provide "legal, technical-environmental and legislative services" related to the Ike. Trustees have been renewing the contract each year, most recently with a maximum cost of $171,000 in 2010.

Village President David Pope emphasized that the contract is capped at $180,000, and that village staff has been diligent in keeping bills from the firm much lower. About $90,000 was saved from the budgeted amount last year. Nossaman has provided legal updates on what's happening with the Ike, and was instrumental in Oak Park obtaining about $5 million in federal dollars, said Pope. Some $1 million of that total was used on feasibility studies related to capping the Ike.

In questioning continuation of the contract, Hale acknowledged the receipt of federal grants but said, "We have (elected) representatives in Washington that should be helping us on that. That's what they're there for."

The Illinois Department of Transportation is currently looking at whether it wants to expand the number of lanes on the Ike, or consider other alternatives, such as extending the CTA Blue Line.

"We're setting a foundation to be able to be sure we don't see IDOT sort of ramming something through that has the potential to expand the Eisenhower in a way that would be harmful to Oak Park and in particular the southern half of Oak Park," Pope said.

But some trustees were skeptical whether Oak Park was still getting its money worth. In the past, Nossaman provided regular updates to the board, but those seem to have tapered off, said Trustee Ray Johnson. The board received an update in September, but only after it was requested, and the report seemed hurriedly put together and confusing, he said.

He wants to reduce the budgeted amount or just keep the firm on retainer.

"I'm just not clear what they're bringing to the table," Johnson said.

He asked for a more comprehensive summary from village staff about the lobbying work, and also suggested that some of Nossaman's reports, outside of legal advice, be made public.

Village hall has denied a Wednesday Journal Freedom of Information Act request for the lobbyist's reports, saying that they contain "preliminary recommendations in which opinions are expressed and policies and actions are formulated." The reports are also confidential, says the village, under the law of attorney client privilege.

For more on this story, see the Nov. 10 print edition of Wednesday Journal.

Reader Comments

17 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Nick Bridge from Oak Park  

Posted: November 11th, 2010 8:51 PM

Thanks, Marty, for the clarification.

Christopher Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 2:40 PM

Any expansion of transportation thru this corridor needs to be public transit first and there should be no expansion outside the present ditch. We have three railroad tracks, space for 4 CTA tracks and 6 lanes of traffic plus on/off ramps and shoulders in a block wide gash thru town. If they can get 2 more lanes in and build the 4 tracks of CTA to OakBrook within the present boundaries then I can live without a cap. If not then end the highway expansion or cap it. It won't end the congestion.

Marty Stempniak, Journal staff reporter  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 10:36 AM

Nick,"More than $1.3 million" is the actual amount spent, not a summary of the budgeted amounts.

Julie Samuels  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 7:50 AM

We started Citizens for Appropriate Transportation to get our Village Board to insure that public transit - not the highway - would be expanded to move people around the county. Result? They raised money to lobby for & study a %u201Ccap%u201D %u2013 twice. Result? The new CMAP plan calls for expanding the highway first , transit 2nd. Our Village government has been AWOL in monitoring many issues including this one. They have spent money we don%u2019t have to pay for lobbyists who I was told %u201Cattended committee hearings%u201D . Another expensive lesson for a board who might finally be paying attention %u2013 too late.

Nick Bridge from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2010 6:39 PM

Exactly how much has this lobbyist contract cost us? While I agree with Ray Johnson that this sort of spending needs to be examined closely(and perhaps terminated), I would like to know more precisely what was spent. The first paragraph says "the contract.. has totalled more than $1.3 million," but later in the story alludes to the fact that the entire contract amount may not be spent each year. Let's get it right, Wednesday Journal. You can do better.

I-290 Project Website  

Posted: November 7th, 2010 2:51 PM

Get up-to-date information on the I-290 Study and sign-up on the mailing list by visiting the project website at www.eisenhowerexpressway.com

Matt from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 4:25 PM

I have to agree with everything Dan Lauber wrote in his comment. Also, the efforts to block expansion by giving the on/off ramps "Landmark Status" are equally ridiculous and petty. This is beginning to sound like Long Grove blocking 53. If private groups want to commit their own resources to block Ike expansion, fine that is their right. But I am fully against the village using tax dollars to block expansion.

Gary Strokosch from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 11:40 AM

I was patiently reading and not sure what I thought about the lobby services until I hit the confidential section at the end. Let's see, I am paying for services that remain a secret to the funders? Dump the services and spend our money for better things. Does anyone believe there will be a bridge over the Ike for 1-1/2 miles of Oak Park?

rp  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 10:32 AM

Agree with most of the comments here. Kill "Cap the Ike". It's a waste of money and time. Thanks to Wednesday Journal for running this story.

Paul Obis from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 8:50 AM

Oak Park has already spent too much money on this project and should stop immediately.If we create a 1.5 mile tunnel by capping the highway, it will become a magnet shelter for the homeless. It will also make it more difficult for emergency vehicles if there are accidents in the tunnel.Our property taxes are already among the highest in the state. We need to stop funding this "What if" fantasy. Our government needs to be more transparent.

Paul Landerman from Oak Park  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 8:03 PM

I don't get this. How can tax payer money be spent on something confidential? Attorney client privilege? Aren't we (Oak Park tax payers) the client in the end? I like David Pope, but I hope he or someone is a) looking into this spending of $180k a year on lobbyists and b) can shed some light on the project, where it stands, where's it going, etc.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 5:48 PM

Let's see...$1.3 million over the past 7 years; a potential $900,00 more over the next 5. All for secret reports about a pie-in-the-sky project. Trying to cap the Eisenhower is a fool's errand -- capping frivolous village spending is not. "Mad props" to Ray Johnson & anyone else who advocates common sense. (And with all due respect to President Pope: one man's "diligence" is another man's indulgence.

Les Golden from OP  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 5:34 PM

obseastern@aol.com if you want to become or suggest candidates to run against the VMA and halt the misspending of tax money by these arrogant, incompetent drunken sailors.

Werner Huget from Oak Park  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 5:33 PM

Spending this kind of money on lobbyists in this economy is Wasteful. That kind of money could be put to much better use right here at home. And it is public money that is spent, the taxpayers have a right to know what the ROI is for the money spent (not invested) here. Capping the IKE is a pipe dream. It's not going to happen.

Alberg  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 5:15 PM

Spending money to keep the Village informed - - and then hiding the reports from Villagers is the ultimate arrogance of the Village Board. We are used to them ignoring us, but this is way over the top!!! Release the reports!Capping the Ike at an immense cost is going to happen when pigs fly.Forget making lobbyists rich(er) and put our money to use in the Community.

Liz  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 4:50 PM

I want to state that I am totally opposed to the expansion. I've attended 2 public meetings at Village Hall where many people have stated opposition to the expansion. Expansion will take land from Oak Park, even threatening the Conservatory and homes along the expressway. Worst of all, studies have shown the expansions just attract more traffic. Many village residents agree that we need to put the money into public transportation.Note to Webmaster: Where is the "Print This" button?

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 4:44 PM

Bravo to Ray Johnson and now the other trustees. Oak Park has been taken to the bank by this lobbyist firm. The village has thrown away over $1 million on it for a project that has no business being pursued. The billion plus dollars it would cost to cap the Ike would only add to the national debt. Plus why does Oak Park deserve this? Why not Maywood, Forest Park, and every other suburb with residential neighorhoods divided by the Ike?

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