Lake Forest city attorney resigns following investigation into secret lobbying payments
In an effort to lure backing for an Amtrak train stop, a February report showed nearly $200,000 traveled from Lake Forest to a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. The city attorney, whose private law firm processed the transaction, has resigned from office.
The contents of an investigative report released in February have continued to reverberate through the Lake Forest City Council.
On April 2, Mayor Robert Lansing informed City Council that City Attorney Victor Filippini had resigned his position. Filippini had served as Lake Forest’s city attorney since 2000, according to the Lake Forester.
Filippini, who was not present during Lansing’s announcement, criticized the February report in his resignation letter. According to the Lake Forester, the former city attorney disputed the report’s allegations of city code violations and its characterization of the city’s relationship with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm.
In the resignation letter, obtained by Pioneer Press, Filippini wrote that the investigative report “suffers from a fundamental flaw that corrupts its legal analysis and results in a series of false accusations and erroneous legal conclusions regarding compliance with city ordinances,” according to the Lake Forester.
Filippini’s resignation comes more than a month after special counsel Leigh Jeter presented a report to local lawmakers Feb. 20 revealing City Manager Robert Kiely paid nearly $200,000 to a lobbying firm without the approval or knowledge of City Council, as part of an agreement that had been reached with the lobbying firm in December 2015. Jeter’s report concluded that Kiely had violated three city codes.
The funds, however, had been routed through Filippini’s private law firm to the lobbying firm. Channeling these payments through Filippini’s firm allowed the transaction to go largely undetected, an arrangement the special counsel found uncommon, according to the Lake Forester.
Kiely had sought lobbying assistance to help attract financial backing from the state and federal government for the construction and design of an Amtrak train stop and pedestrian underpass. A conviction of some Lake Forest officials, the Amtrak project has been considerably more contentious among many residents.
The report suggested that Filippini ought to have counseled Kiely to inform local lawmakers of the transactions once payments exceeded $20,000, the cost threshold at which officials are required to secure approval from City Council.
Kiely’s Amtrak ambitions had previously been wracked by continual fiscal complications. Initially eyed at an estimated cost of between “a low of $1.8 million to a high of $2.5 million” in 2012, forecasted costs for the project had ballooned to more than $13 million by 2017. That the city had erroneously allowed a federal grant to expire before it could be fully appropriated only further jeopardized the project.
Local lawmakers appear to have taken note of the project’s mismanagement, however. On April 2, Lake Forest City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring its opposition to the Amtrak train stop.
“For once we’re on the same page with the residents,” Alderman Melanie Rummel told the Daily North Shore.