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. The bill has totaled more than $1.3 million, and one trustee is questioning whether the village should continue paying for the lobbyist.

“I have some concerns, and look forward to talking about it in the budget process,” Trustee Ray Johnson said. “It’s good to get these out early so we can flesh them out and better understand where we’re going.”

Johnson brought up those concerns during a budget meeting last week. He emphasized that he’s supportive of stopping the expansion of the Ike, which Oak Park has said would potentially cost the village precious properties on Garfield and Harrison. However, trustees previously got regular updates from the firm, which seems to have “tapered off” in 2010. He wants the contract to go away, or to better understand why things have been so quiet.

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.

Deputy Village Manager Rob Cole declined to make the most recent reports from Nossaman public, saying that they’re protected under the pending or imminent litigation portion of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. He said the village has been diligent in keeping the costs for the contract down, most recently saving $90,000 from the budgeted amount in 2009.

Village Manager Tom Barwin said it’s difficult for Oak Park to follow what happens in D.C. related to the Ike. He’s hesitant to kill the contract, and would be happy to provide more frequent updates from the lobbyist to the board.

“It’s a hell of a fight to try to get 100-year-old state agencies that are used to doing the same thing year after year, decade after decade, to do something different,” Barwin said. “So, it is an uphill battle, and to win an uphill battle or even have a fair hearing, you need to be on your toes and up to date and engaged.”

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