McHenry County Board tables contract approval for lobbyist group

Franks: 'I followed the law completely ... there is no conflict of interest'

A third resolution was removed from Tuesday evening’s McHenry County Board meeting consent agenda, which would have approved an extension of the county’s contract with a federal lobbyist group called the National Group.

District 3 board member Joseph Gottemoller said he filed a motion Tuesday to remove the contract approval, along with two other new resolutions, because he wanted County Board Chairman Jack Franks to explain his ties to the National Group.

“I don’t know if there’s an issue here,” Gottemoller said. “I haven’t gotten an answer on it, but that’s why I took that piece off.”

During a Committee of the Whole meeting May 14, Gottemoller said he decided to review Franks' economic interests disclosure form after hearing rumors that the chairman had worked with a company tied to the National Group.

“It’s unfortunate that he didn’t bring his concerns to me because if he would have, he would have known that there is absolutely no conflict,” Franks said.

All County Board members and the chairman are required to submit annual statements of economic interest to provide transparency about any potential conflicts between their work with the county and other economic endeavors.

In April, Franks disclosed that he worked as an independent contractor for Alexander, Borovicka & O’Shea Government Solutions, a position that he said he held for about 10 months in 2018.

One of the firm's partners, Sean O'Shea, is listed as being "of counsel" with the National Group on its website. It was this connection that Gottemoller said caused him to be uncomfortable with approving the continuation of the National Group's contract.

“I’m not opposed to having a lobbyist group at all,” Gottemoller said. “I’m just opposed to having one that somehow has a tie, a financial tie, to the chairman.”

Illinois state statute ILCS 105/3 bars government officials from having financial ties to any individuals or entities that they may be called to vote or act upon, with some exceptions. Officials are called to disclose all financial ties and must recuse themselves if a conflict of interest is identified. According to the statute, failure to do so is considered a Class 4 felony.

As chairman, Franks is not a member of the board and does not vote. He said he made sure to disclose his connection to the ABO firm properly and even consulted with an attorney before agreeing to work with it.

The county has had a contractual relationship with the National Group since the beginning of 2017, shortly after Franks was elected as chairman.

“After the initial agreement was entered into, I briefly served as a consultant to an organization, that ABO firm, that had a relationship with the National Group,” Franks said. “But the work I did had nothing to do with McHenry County or the National Group.”

As a lawyer and former state representative, Franks said he often is hired as a consultant by groups such as the ABO firm, which may have ties to other political organizations. He said he always makes sure that this work does not involve anything related to his position with the county.

“I correctly listed the work on my statement of economic interests as required,” he said. “I followed the law completely. ... There is no conflict of interest.”

Franks said other board members, including Gottemoller, have failed to disclose the full extent of their economic interests in the past.

The motion to remove the three resolutions from Tuesday’s agenda passed with 18 board members voting in favor and four voting against. The resolution approving the county’s contract renewal with the National Group will be tabled for the time being, Gottemoller said.

“It hasn’t been voted on, so that contract is kind of in limbo now,” he said. “I will not vote for that lobbyist group until I know all the details. Period.”

For years, the county has contracted lobbyist firms such as the National Group to represent local interests in Springfield and to gain more federal funding for the county, Gottemoller said.

“Anytime the federal government wants to give money to counties, this is how you get it,” he said.

Unless a new proposal to consider the resolution is made, the National Group’s contract with the county will expire at the end of the month.