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A lobbyist for Evanston?

lobbyist_teaser.jpg

lobbyist_teaser.jpg

Though Evanston leaders seem to have abandoned the idea, the city could benefit from hiring a lobbyist, officials from nearby municipalities say.

City officials toyed with the idea of a new lobbyist at a committee meeting last month, but the thought never crystallized into an actual proposal, despite the mayor’s support.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin used to work as the city’s lobbyist but dropped the role after winning his current position in 2003.

So Evanston scrapped his $20,000 annual contract and never replaced him, according to budget records.

Officials from nearby municipalities, however, suggest the city should bring the idea back to the table.

Of 11 other large Chicago suburbs checked, 10 spend money regularly for a little extra push in Springfield or Washington D.C., according to state records.


lobbyist_teaser.jpg

Though Evanston leaders seem to have abandoned the idea, the city could benefit from hiring a lobbyist, officials from nearby municipalities say.

City officials toyed with the idea of a new lobbyist at a committee meeting last month, but the thought never crystallized into an actual proposal, despite the mayor’s support.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin used to work as the city’s lobbyist but dropped the role after winning his current position in 2003.

So Evanston scrapped his $20,000 annual contract and never replaced him, according to budget records.

Officials from nearby municipalities, however, suggest the city should bring the idea back to the table.

Of 11 other large Chicago suburbs checked, 10 spend money regularly for a little extra push in Springfield or Washington D.C., according to state records.

Skokie, for example, pays $36,000 a year for its lobbyist, Communications Director Ann Tennes wrote in an e-mail. Corporation Counsel Patrick Hanley says the lobbyist ensures representatives consider the welfare of the city during the legislative process.

“The legislator is constantly imposing duties and responsibilities on us, and a lot of times these are unfunded mandates,” he says. For example, the state often sticks municipalities with the bill for hikes in public pensions without offering ways cities can pay them, he says.

“That’s where a consultant is valuable – being there, hearing something, seeing something, and being able to immediately step up to try to interface on the issue, get a hold of us and let us respond,” he says.

Municipalities often use lobbyists not just to influence regular legislation, but to grab a bigger slice of state coffers. Skokie has been lobbying for more state money to construct an L stop intended to boost economic development in the city’s downtown area and the popularity of a new science and technology park, Hanley said.

Meanwhile, Schaumburg’s lobbyist is arguing for the state to put an off-ramp on a toll way that runs through the village, Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz says.

“He’s been instrumental in helping us,” he says. “Sometimes you just need somebody else out there trying to cut through some of the red tape, to try to get them to listen what you’re saying.”

The village began contracting a lobbyist in 2006 to keep officials updated on transportation issues – Transportation Director June Johnson calls him her “eyes and ears” in Springfield – and Schaumberg pays out $54,000 for those eyes and ears annually.

Just because the General Assembly passes favorable legislation, however, does not mean that lobbyists are effective, Fritz says, adding that evidence of the efficacy of the Schaumburg’s lobbyist is purely anecdotal.

“It’s hard to quantify the results,” he said. “But you can tell.”

Some Naperville councilmen originally opposed contracting lobbyists when the council discussed it years ago. But when the time came this year to renew the city’s contract with the lobbyist, the council was unanimous.

Councilor Robert Fieseler used to think state representatives of the city’s legislative districts were enough, he said at the meeting during which the city renewed the contract.

But after the state’s recent capital bill allotted $125 million to widen Route 59, which passes through Naperville, and after the General Assembly passed a bill that let the city tax food and beverage sales in its downtown area for parking funds, he said he had a change of heart.

“I spoke out as a skeptic to the hiring of outside lobbyists,” he said. “But I have since seen the wisdom of having people who know their way around.”

Above: The Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illi., from Wikipedia.

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