Leadership changes at tollway mean new positions and salaries

New blood is infusing the Illinois tollway after controversy over patronage and nepotism resulted in the ouster of the board of directors and exodus of top staff members.

Reforms, however, come at a cost. Three new administrators brought on by tollway Executive Director José Alvarez to improve procurement policies will earn a collective $512,000 a year. The three are former colleagues of Alvarez from the Chicago Housing Authority, where he was chief operating officer until joining the tollway in April.

"Our new executive director has brought on a few, very talented people to join an experienced senior team and ensure the tollway is providing the best services possible to the people of Illinois," spokesman Dan Rozek said.

The tollway has a history of cronyism that flared up in 2017 and 2018 over personal and political conflicts of interest involving contracts and hires that provoked state Senate scrutiny.

In 2019, lawmakers dismissed the tollway board of directors and incoming Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed replacements with instructions to restore public trust.

Hired for the three new positions are Chief Procurement and Compliance Officer Dee Brookens, being paid $192,000 a year, and Chief of Contract Services Eric Occomy and Chief of Compliance Angela Arrington-Jones, each making $160,000.

Brookens' "knowledge and experience will be critical toward our goal of strengthening our procurement compliance and contract oversight across the agency," Alvarez said in a letter to staff. Brookens, who has an MBA, was chief procurement officer at CHA.

The other two positions are designed to "streamline and strengthen the agency's procurement and compliance processes," Rozek said.

Meanwhile, as the tollway's revolving door admits Team Pritzker, it's ejecting a stream of top staffers, some of them political hires, dating back to former Gov. Bruce Rauner's tenure.

Executives with Republican ties leaving the agency since January include Executive Director Liz Gorman, Acting Chief of Administration Sue Gowen, and most recently Chief Operating Officer Kevin Artl. Other high-ranking departures are Chief of Diversity Gustavo Geraldo and Business Systems Chief Shana Whitehead.

Replacing Artl as chief operating officer is Derek Messier, who was the Chicago Housing Authority's chief property officer. Messier will be paid $195,000 a year, compared to Artl, who made about $169,600 a year.

In spring 2015, Messier was involved in a controversy at Broward County Public Schools in Florida, where he worked as facilities chief. A retired Broward employee accused Messier of steering the contract process to favor a specific engineering firm, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Florida BullDog website reported.

But Broward officials concluded Messier's actions were appropriate and followed district policy. When he left Broward to return to Chicago in fall 2015, the superintendent praised Messier's leadership, according to school district minutes.

"Derek is a recognized leader with regard to capital development, procurement and project management," Rozek said. "He has a strong record of integrity, and any narrative to the contrary is not accurate." Got a question about the tollway? Drop an email to

Gridlock alert

Sorry, Palatine. IDOT crews will be fixing drainage problems along Route 14 near Ethan's Glen Drive starting Monday. That means daytime lane closures now through Nov. 30.

Your voice

Buffalo Grove's Beryl Cook knows what to do with 1,100 acres of state-owned land intended for the now-shelved Route 53 extension. "Make it part of the forest preserve," Cook writes. "With each 'For Sale' sign on pristine land in Lake County, I worry where the animals and birds will go. We are taking more and more land away from them, and then complain when coyotes, deer, skunks, chipmunks, etc. are on our property. We bulldoze over native plants, which native birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects need for food and to raise their young."

Plane envy

Got an urge to make like an airplane and land on a runway? You can indulge this Sunday morning when the Chicago Department of Aviation opens up a runway for its annual Midway Fly Away 5K. The event gives walkers and runners a chance to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago and includes a children's race. To register and for information go to

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José Alvarez
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