McHenry County rehires D.C. lobbying firm over objections

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board has renewed its eight-year relationship with a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, over the objection of a handful of members.

The County Board voted last week, 14-5, to enter into another contract with Ferguson Group to augment county government’s D.C. presence on top of working with the county’s two U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators.

Under the deal, Ferguson gets a one-year, $82,000 contract with the option to extend an additional two years with annual increases not to exceed 6 percent.

Ferguson received $93,000 in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, and $82,000 in 2011 and 2012, according to county lobbying records.

The contract barely squeaked through the Finance and Audit Committee last month on a 4-3 vote. Member Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, repeated her “no” vote on the board floor, first citing her discomfort with the size of the potential increases.

“We don’t give our employees that, and other employees in McHenry County don’t get those kinds of increases as a general rule,” Barnes said.

Barnes pointed out that she asked for a cost-benefit analysis, but never received one. But John Jung, R-Woodstock, chimed in that the county has paid Ferguson about $600,000 since 2005, and has received $4.6 million back in federal funds. Jung is chairman of the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, which works the closest with Ferguson.

Jung said projects such as the Rakow Road widening and the county’s groundwater mapping system would not have been possible without the federal matching funds.

“I think it’s very prudent for us to have a lobbyist,” Jung said.

Board member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, agreed. He said the lobbyist isn’t for working with the county’s representation in Congress, but for working with the other 531 members of the House and Senate.

But John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, said he did not see any proof regarding how much Ferguson had to do with getting the funds that Jung cited. Hammerand, who also voted against the contract in the Finance Committee, cited his general opposition to government lobbying.

“The system itself is wrong,” Hammerand said.

The practice of county and local governments hiring lobbyists with taxpayer dollars to advance agendas in Springfield – though Ferguson is strictly federal – has generated controversy in recent years.

A Northwest Herald investigation in 2011 revealed that local governments had been paying lobbyists to fight to curtail the state’s Freedom of Information Act, Open Meetings Act and other laws requiring data and meetings to be open to the public.

Subsequent research in later years revealed the lobbying groups fought efforts by a local state representative to enact legislation forbidding governments from raising property taxes when their overall assessed value fell from the previous year.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted, 14-5, to renew its contract with Ferguson Group, its Washington, D.C., lobbying group.

Voting “no” were Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, and John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake.

Board members Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, Anna May Miller, R-Cary, Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, and Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, were absent.

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