Special Counsel Recommends Discipline for Lake Forest City Manager in Amtrak Lobbying

The city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois, should be disciplined, but not fired, for an unauthorized spending of money on a lobbying efforts to land a stop on the route of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

That recommendation was made by a special counsel appointed to investigate how City Manager Bob Kiely, former Mayor Don Schoenheider and current Mayor Rob Lansing spent $192,000 on the lobbying effort without the knowledge or approval of the city council.

Special Counsel Leigh Jeter did not specify what discipline that Kiely should receive other than it should be short of termination and that it should be appropriate.

Jeter’s 11-page report said the payments were made to a Washington law firm by city attorney Vic Filippinni in increments of $9,500.

This was in violation of the city code that requires payments of $20,000 or more to have city council approval. The payments were brought to the council’s attention by a group of citizens.

Lake Forest has been seeking the Amtrak stop since 2012. The north Chicago suburb is served by commuter rail agency Metra.

The report by the special counsel said the payments were channeled through Filippini’s law firm in Evanston, Illinois, to keep the lobbying activities “as close to the vest,” Filippini said.

Jeter’s report said none of the city officials involved in the payments profited from the arrangement or intentionally misled aldermen or the public.

Lake Forest has since changed its financial procedures.

The report said Finance Director Elizabeth Holleb knew that the lobbyist payments were coming out of the general fund contingency account.

Although she had concerns about the practice, Holleb said she never questioned the directive from the city manager or reported it to the finance committee of the council.

Holleb told the special counsel that she “did not feel it was her place to question” the mayor, city manager and city attorney, who she knew to be in agreement about the arrangement, according to the report.

In response to the special counsel’s report, Kiely said in a statement that he was sorry for what he termed a purchasing procedure oversight and the disruption that it has caused.

“But I want to assure you, and I’d like to assure the community, that this is not reflective of who I am or who this organization is. I’d like to underscore that my oversight should not reflect poorly on our finance department or our city employees.”

Mayor Lansing declined to comment on the report other than to tell the Lake Forester it “speaks for itself.”

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