Des Plaines aldermen questioned the city's three lobbyists Monday night on the work they have done representing the city's interests in Springfield and asked for frequent updates on the progress of proposed legislation, such as on gambling expansion and pension reform.
The city has $110,000 budgeted for professional lobbying services in 2013. Staff members anticipated spending $91,200 to retain three lobbying firms -- Alfred G. Ronan Ltd. at a cost of $60,000, Government Consulting Services of Illinois LLC for $11,500, and McGuireWoods Consulting LLC for not more than $19,200 -- for the entire year.
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However, the city council Monday night extended contracts for Ronan and McGuireWoods only until July 1, at which time the council will re-evaluate the contracts once city staff members review their performance. The contract for Government Consulting Services isn't up until October. All three contracts have clauses allowing the city to terminate services with 30-day written notice, City Manager Michael Bartholomew said.
The city used the three firms in 2012 to strengthen its voice and influence in Springfield on gambling expansion legislation that would impact Rivers Casino. The $100,000 budgeted last year did not cover additional costs such as travel and long-distance telephone calls that were to be paid for by the city.
"I think $100,000 on lobbyists is a worthwhile expense," Bartholomew said.
McGuireWoods' clientele includes Metra, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and several other municipalities and corporations. Ronan, a former state legislator, has a firm representing more than 30 clients, including various other units of government, cable TV, the Chicago Cubs, a red-light camera vendor and a group representing downstate strip clubs.
Both firms have a team of five full-time lobbyists. Much of their work has been trying to get concessions on two proposals for gambling expansion that were vetoed by the governor, Ronan said.
As part of the deal that won Des Plaines the 10th, and supposedly final riverboat gambling license, the city agreed to pay the state $10 million a year for 30 years from gambling revenues, and 40 percent of the remainder to 10 disadvantaged communities.
Lobbyists were able to negotiate some relief for Des Plaines in the amount it owes the state -- a $3 million break in the first proposal and a $4 million break in the second proposal, Ronan said.
"It's a very competitive situation," said Ronan, who served 14 years in the Illinois House. "The city of Chicago and (Arlington Park Chairman Dick) Duchossois have a great team of lobbyists. There needs to be relief in this third bill for Des Plaines."
The bill calls for slot machines at Arlington Park and five other racetracks, new casinos in Chicago, Lake County, and elsewhere, and Internet gambling. Any gambling expansion "would put Des Plaines in a dramatically different situation than we are in today," Ronan said.
Des Plaines acting Mayor Dick Sayad said he's not sure if the city is getting the best bang for its buck by having three firms. He added aldermen need to be kept in the loop; previously reports were sent only to the mayor's and city manager's offices.
"We just want to make sure we are getting the representation that we are paying for," Sayad said. "We want to give these gentlemen a list of topics to be on the lookout for so we are not just having them down there for the casino."
Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman agreed and suggested aldermen meet with lobbyists regularly to discuss objectives and goals. "The council was not involved at all in the process of who should be our lobbyists," he said. "I've never seen a report in all the time they have been on board."
Newly elected 55th House District state Rep. Marty Moylan, who picked the firms as mayor of Des Plaines, vouched for the need for multiple lobbyists. "The racetrack consortium has 38 lobbyists," Moylan said. "We have three. City of Chicago has numerous lobbyists."
Moylan said each firm brings different expertise. "You need a cross-section to get bipartisan support on any of your bills. These lobbyists are at every committee meeting," he added.
Moylan said he chose the firms after witnessing their work firsthand during visits to Springfield. He and the city manager were copied on weekly reports, and aldermen were given updates in closed session, he said.
First Ward Alderwoman Patti Haugeberg suggested city staff members research other lobbying firms and consider putting out a request for proposals before contracts are awarded in future.
Third Ward Alderman Matt Bogusz said Des Plaines is the only city with lobbyists advocating against gambling expansion. "It's entirely possible that the reason that we don't have expansion today is because of our efforts down there."