Kimmons’ timeline extended but decision looms after city committee upholds cross-lobbying ban

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Kimmons’ timeline extended but decision looms after city committee upholds cross-lobbying ban

October 16, 2020 - 15:05

Gyata Kimmons (File photo)

Flossmoor Trustee Gyata Kimmons has a tough decision on the horizon: leave his elected position in the town he calls home or discontinue the work he does as a lobbyist in the city of Chicago.

The Chicago City Council Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight on Tuesday, Oct. 13, voted down an amendment from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to an ordinance that prohibits cross-lobbying. If passed, it would have allowed Kimmons to continue to keep both roles.

“The vote and necessity to choose between my business in Chicago and elected official service in Flossmoor is disappointing,” Kimmons said in an Oct. 14 email to the Chronicle.

Kimmons noted the ethics office established Nov. 16 as the effective date, meaning he has until then to formally make his decision. As of Oct. 14, he said he had not made that decision and expects to use all of the time he has to do so.

If Kimmons opts to vacate his trustee seat before that deadline, it would put another trustee position on the ballot this spring. Terms for the mayor and three trustees were already ending in 2021. Kimmons' term is not up until 2023, meaning the remaining two years on his term would be up for grabs in April.

While candidates started circulating petitions Sept. 22, the filing period for suburban Cook County is not until the week of Dec. 14. And Illinois law stipulates that a vacancy with at least 28 months remaining, created more than 130 days before a municipal election, be placed on the ballot for that election.

Mayor Paul Braun said he thinks that would be the case if Kimmons decides to vacate the seat, but “that’s his decision to make.”

Kimmons was elected a trustee in April 2019 and took his seat that May. He has served as a lobbyist for roughly the past 11 years. And as of 2015, he has done that work for Ridge Strategy Group, a company he founded and for which he serves as CEO. He lobbies the City of Chicago on behalf of clients such as Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Kimmons said he checked with the city prior to April 2019 to make sure there would not be any issues if he won a seat on the Flossmoor Village Board. He similarly talked to people in Flossmoor to clear all of his bases and was told there were no conflicts.

But in December 2019, Chicago passed an ordinance that banned “cross-lobbying” — preventing Chicago aldermen from lobbying state and local government but also vice versa. It makes Kimmons’ business and public service a conflict in the eyes of the city.

That law originally was set to go into effect in April, but Chicago’s Ethics Board held off on enforcing the rule as Lightfoot backed the proposed amendment that was ultimately called for a vote Oct. 13. It reportedly failed in a unanimous decision.

While Kimmons has held off on making a formal decision, he told the Chronicle in September the choice he makes will be in line with the ethics regulations.

“I always want to be in compliance,” he said. “I’ve never not been in compliance. I will always do that.”

Braun said he understands the ethics concerns the city has regarding cross-lobbying, but he thought Chicago aldermen could have considered allowing Kimmons to continue by grandfathering his situation, which existed before the law was passed. Braun said he also hoped they might have considered allowing Kimmons to at least serve out his term before putting the measure into affect.

As it stands, Braun said the decision denies Flossmoor residents a full term with a trustee they elected under different regulations.

“It’s unfortunate,” Braun said. “In some respects, it’s almost a disenfranchisement of Flossmoor voters.”