Questions arise amid power redistribution at tollway authority

Power shifts at the Illinois tollway are raising "who's on first" questions from at least one state lawmaker after the board recently voted to delegate authority to Chairman Will Evans to reorganize departments and administrators' duties.

The decision on Oct. 21 has resulted in significant changes in leadership responsibilities, according to tollway documents.

For example, the chief financial officer, who oversees important functions such as budgeting and securing loans, previously reported to Executive Director Jose Alvarez.

Now, however, CFO Cathy Williams reports to Evans as well as Alvarez. In addition, the chief procurement and compliance officer and the head of the information technology department will now report to Williams, not Alvarez.

"This change will directly align procurement functions with financial management which will facilitate more comprehensive control and management of tollway spending," an email from Evans obtained by the Daily Herald indicated.

It will "enhance contract compliance, and improve procurement efficiency," he said.

Also at the Oct. 21 board meeting, directors voted it was in the "best interests" of the tollway for the board to "delegate its authority to create or reorganize the tollway's administrative offices and departments, and prescribe the duties thereof" to the chairman.

The developments have caused concern for state Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines.

"I'm wondering what kind of policy would put the board chairman in charge of a quasi-governmental agency, and that's what we have to investigate and see if a legislative fix is required," she said Monday.

Evans and Alvarez are part of a reform regime at the tollway ushered in by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019 after scandals involving political hiring and contracts occurred during former Gov. Bruce Rauner's tenure.

"Given the board of director's fiduciary responsibility to the agency, the chairman and CEO, as well as the board, believed it was in the best interests to have the finance department report directly to the chairman and CEO," spokeman Daniel Rozek said. "This has been an informal arrangement for some time, that has now been formalized.

In 2020, Murphy and other senators were critical of Alvarez for hiring a number of colleagues from his previous employer, the Chicago Housing Authority, for executive positions.

In August 2020, a state regulator ruled tollway procurement managers acted illegally and bungled two unsuccessful bids for construction projects. That conclusion was "unfair," tollway officials countered, saying it involved minor procedural issues.

The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting today, but the reorganization was not on the agenda.

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