Fireworks at tollway over fence contract

The Illinois tollway is facing scrutiny by lawmakers who chided directors Thursday for what they consider to be discriminatory treatment of a minority contractor.

In July, the board voted against a $6.7 million contract with Industrial Fence Inc. to do work on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) after the owner of another fence firm complained his bid was unfairly rejected. Industrial Fence is owned by a Hispanic veteran.

State Sen. Martin Sandoval of Cicero said directors made an "innocent mistake" after "being bamboozled by a sob story."

But State Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago told directors to expect a House hearing on the matter and suggested that "hanky-panky was going on."

"What's wrong with you guys?" Arroyo said, addressing Hispanic members of the board. "You guys got a qualified company that bidded on the job and he was the low bidder and all you guys voted against him."

Director Joseph Gomez, who sits on the board's diversity committee, countered that the tollway had redoubled efforts to recruit and assist minority contractors since he and other new members were appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015.

"Nobody is doing what we do. I think it's a bit unfair to make that accusation," Gomez said.

Mike Satijeral, president of Industrial Fence, said he's worked hard to build his company and was disappointed to be "shut out of the opportunity."

Industrial Fence's proposal was approved by staff engineers and administrators but directors reconsidered after the owner of Master Fence, an unsuccessful applicant, made a case that changes to the project midstream put him at a disadvantage.

"I respect (the lawmakers') opinions ... I'm happy they came here to enunciate their concerns," Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said. "We believe we complied with the law, we work very hard to provide opportunities for Latino businesses and Latino workers. I think we've been successful in that ... we recognize that there's always more work to do."

The current tollway board's makeup is about 55 percent minority, including Hispanic and African American members.

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