LAKE FOREST — In the aftermath of an investigation by a special counsel into expenditures of nearly $200,000 in lobbying fees to bring an Amtrak stop to Lake Forest, the city moved to improve oversight of all spending procedures.
The Lake Forest City Council meeting as the Finance Committee unanimously approved revised spending procedures April 16 at City Hall, putting cumulative expenditures to a vendor over a year’s time on the same footing as a onetime payment.
The new rules and procedures are scheduled for a vote when the council next meets at 6:30 p.m. May 7 at City Hall.
When the lobbying expenses came to light in early December, the council’s Finance Committee took a closer at spending procedures. Among other things, the policies then in place allowed the city manager to approve all payments under $20,000 while anything more must get a vote by the council. The entire council and Mayor Rob Lansing sit as the committee.
By late December, the finance committee met several times and hired Lee Jeter as special counsel to investigate the lobbying expenses, report her findings and make suggestions. The Finance Committee also made recommendations.
The payments to the lobbying firm were made in increments each time they were billed with none exceeding $20,000. The money was actually paid by city attorney Victor Filippini as part of his invoices. Those bills were approved by the council.
City Finance Director Elizabeth Holleb said the changes to some of the spending procedures were a result of the Finance Committee and council review while delving into the lobbying expenses. The changes include third party payments and cumulative payments to one entity which can climb above $20,000 in a year’s time.
All expenses of $20,000 or more must not only be approved by the council but must also be subjected to competitive bidding unless otherwise approved, according to Holleb.
When the city begins purchasing goods or services from an entity less than $20,000 and during the year the amount reaches $20,000 or more, Holleb said the activity will be reported to the chair of the Finance committee.
When another person is making payments on behalf of the city such as Filippini did with the lobbyist, which are reasonably expected to exceed $20,000 over the life of the contract, the council must vote on the expenditure.
Along with the payments to the lobbying firm being made by a third party, they also came from the contingency fund. Rule proposals for that fund are also being changed, according to Holleb. Any department requesting use of the fund must complete required paperwork. If it is $20,000 or more, it requires council approval.
Council Discusses Amtrak Expansion Information Meeting
While the council agreed to post a notice for a meeting by Citizens for ACTION on the city website, there was debate about participation of aldermen in the meeting. The meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Gorton Community Center.
The purpose of the meeting is to educate people about the ramifications of Amtrak expansion and the impact of a three-mile holding track allowing passenger trains to pass slower freights between just north of the Telegraph Road Metra Station to Highway 176 near Rondout.
Aldermen Raymond Buschmann said he and Alderman Melanie Rummel planned to speak at the meeting on their own behalf and not as elected officials.
Alderman Tim Newman expressed concern over the participation of his colleagues because he was uncertain how they could offer their personal views without others believing they were talking on behalf of the city. Lansing said it is a challenge.
“Once you are elected a city official things change,” Lansing said. “If you are speaking at the forum how will you be introduced? People are going to know you are an alderman.”
Rummel said she intended to give information and not express an opinion. The council has also unanimously approved a resolution opposing the holding track.