Elgin council stalls on ethics changes with 5-4 vote
A majority of the Elgin City Council put the brakes on proposed changes to the city's ethics ordinance -- including prohibiting council members from working to lobby the state, the county and the city -- saying it would be the start of "a slippery slope."
The changes were proposed by Mayor David Kaptain after the revelation last fall that Councilman Baldemar Lopez, elected in April, is a lobbyist registered with the state. Kaptain pointed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's push for ethics reform, including banning public officials from working as lobbyists.
"I think Elgin deserves the same," Kaptain said at the council meeting Wednesday.
Elgin Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley presented the proposed changes, largely modeled on changes recently adopted by the city of Chicago.
They included whistleblower protection for council members and city employees who report violations of the law or the ethics ordinance; prohibiting people who do, or seek to do, business with the city exceeding $10,000 in 12 consecutive months from making contributions to city council members or candidates; and prohibiting council members and city employees from representing people "with interests adverse to the city."
The issue was tabled after a majority 5-4 vote by council members Lopez, Tish Powell, Carol Rauschenberger, Corey Dixon and John Steffen.
Chicago aldermen hold full-time positions while Elgin council seats are part-time, Powell said. Anna Moeller, now a state representative, was a lobbyist when she served on the city council and worked for the McHenry County Council of Governments, Powell said.
"I have very serious concerns about overreach about what we can do in our personal endeavors if it does not have a direct conflict with the city," Powell said.
Steffen, an attorney, said council members might not know whether people giving them campaign contributions have contracts with the city.
"I agree with the concept ... but I am also trying not to create situations that are just going to trip people up unintentionally," he said.
Lopez, also an attorney, said it would be "a little bit unfair" to adopt the changes now, as it would have an adverse effect on his practice.
"I am not ashamed of the work that I do," he said. "I am a practicing attorney who has represented poor people for many, many years. I happen to have a couple of clients, as well, that I do government relations for, and I am not ashamed of that, either."
Council members Toby Shaw, Terry Gavin and Rose Martinez sided with Kaptain.
Shaw said he was shocked at his colleagues' reluctance to move forward with ethics changes, saying running for elected office is a choice, not an obligation.
"I sometimes laugh about some of the things that Chicago does," Shaw said. "When they actually pass a transparency and ethics ordinance, now we don't want to take that? Really? It's too strict for us but it's good for Chicago?"
Kaptain was clear about his displeasure with the majority decision. "Evidently good government doesn't need to be done tonight," he said.
City council members are required to fill out annual statements of economic interest, Shaw also pointed out. Lopez, who has been a registered lobbyist with firm Stratagem Consulting since 2014, didn't mention his lobbying work on his statement filed with Kane County in November 2018, records show.
Lopez didn't return a request for comment Thursday.
Stratagem's current clients are the Illinois Thoroughbred Association, NRG Energy, Southern Company Gas and 2IM Group; the firm would lobby members of the General Assembly and the governor's and lieutenant governor's office, among others, documents show.
All nine council members will be required to submit updated statements by May.