The Village of Forest Park stopped payments to lobbyist GPG Strategies after the company failed to submit detailed reports two months after Commissioner Jessica Voogd asked for them.
Voogd previously told the Review that the reports the firm has been submitting lacked detail, and she pushed the issue during an August meeting. The council approved a July payment on the condition that GPG submit a more detailed report in the future. Since then, the village hasn’t made any payments — something that interim village administrator Rachell Entler confirmed was a result of GPG not supplying the requested report.
“I am withholding payments at this time per the council’s request,” she said.
She didn’t respond to follow-up questions about whether the consulting firm still lobbies for the village, or about what would happen if GPG doesn’t submit any reports in the future. GPG didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.
GPG is headed by Michael Axelrod, son of former President Barack Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod. Before GPG’s hiring in August 2021, former village administrator Matt O’Shea served as the village lobbyist for eight years. The commissioners and Mayor Rory Hoskins agreed that while O’Shea made detailed reports, GPG’s reports have been sparse.
According to the village’s contract with GPG, the firm gets paid $2,000 a month, plus expenses. If the village doesn’t pay the invoice within 30 days, GPG will charge interest of 1.5% a month. Assuming there are no expenses, and that the contract is still in force, this means the village could owe it $4,030.
The contract can be dissolved with a 30-day notice from either party. It doesn’t include any requirement that GPG provide any kind of report on its activities.
Voogd told the Review that she has been asking for detailed reports for years, and that she expected to receive one in July.
During the August meeting, she moved to take the payment for GPG out of the resolution approving payments of bills for the preceding two weeks. The council ended up approving the bills – but other commissioners said they shared Voogd’s concern, and that they were interested in seeing detailed reports as well.
Hoskins defended Axelrod’s record, saying that GPG was “instrumental” in securing the grants to demolish the buildings and clean up the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim retirement community property, and that it helped secure grants at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, “at the period where the state was really reassessing a lot of its grant-making.”
“We got what was due, and I would just suggest to you that the lobbyist provides quite a bit of value,” Hoskins said. “I think you’ll see it in the report, and I think it would be fairly soon.”
During the Aug. 14 meeting, he said that the council should get the report by “late August.” But payments to GPG weren’t included in any of the payments of bills resolutions for Aug. 28, Sept.11 and Sept. 26 meetings.
In an interview after the Sept. 26 meeting, Voogd said that she had no idea what was happening with the payments and whether GPG submitted any reports. She said that if the payment was included in the bill approval, she would move to block it again.