Outgoing Lake Forest official poised to collect large pension following Amtrak lobbying scandal
Months after an investigation found Lake Forest’s city manager to have squandered $200,000 on unauthorized lobbying payments, the north suburban official announced plans to retire next year.
Lake Forest’s longest-serving city manager will be wrapping up nearly three decades of public service come next year.
Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely, who has served in that position since November 1990, announced during a July 2 city council meeting plans to retire from his post in January 2019. Kiely, the north suburb’s eighth city manager, will have held the title for 29 years when he departs next year.
“The city is in a strong financial position and has a world-class staff,” he said, according to the Lake Forest Patch. “An ideal situation to be in when you are searching for a new city manager.”
Kiely, who is the second-highest paid city manager in the state and outearns all 50 U.S. governors, will more than likely be receiving a six-figure pension. Defined-benefit pensions for government employees are calculated based in part on length of service and late-career earnings. And for Kiely, whose work in Illinois local government spans back to 1980, and whose total annual compensation has been budgeted at nearly $250,000 since at least fiscal year 2015, his annual pension payout will likely surpass $100,000 soon after retirement.
The Patch listed a number of Kiely’s contributions that city council members recounted during the meeting, including hosting PGA Tour events, overseeing the city’s transition into a home-rule community and maintaining the lowest tax rate in high-tax Lake County.
One recent event less likely to inspire admiration, however, was an independent investigation that had concluded in April that Kiely had spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer dollars on unauthorized lobbying payments since 2016. Those lobbying payments put Kiely in violation of three codes, according to the investigation.
Kiely and other Lake Forest officials had been pushing for the construction of a new Amtrak stop and accompanying pedestrian underpass since 2012. Despite scarce support from the public – and ballooning cost projections – Kiely had enlisted a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm to help rally federal and state financial support for the train stop in 2016. Channeling the funds through former Lake Forest City Attorney Victor Filippini’s private law firm allowed the lobbying payments to proceed largely undetected by city aldermen.
The investigation concluded with special counsel Leigh Jeter recommending “appropriate action” be taken against Kiely and Filippini, the latter of whom resigned the following month. Kiely had initially declined to step down in the wake of the Amtrak lobbying scandal, and accepted his automatically renewed, or “evergreen,” annual contract in May.
Unfortunately, building taxpayer-backed fortunes through prolonged careers in public service are far from unique in the Land of Lincoln – and nor are these the most egregious circumstances under which an Illinois official has left office in the wake of controversy. But the familiar qualities of excessive compensation and evaded culpability among Illinois public officials point to a more fundamental need for reform in local governance across the state.