'Squeaky wheel' Bill Morris, George Pradel off tollway board

 
 
Updated 10/25/2011 5:25 AM
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  • Bill Morris

    Bill Morris

  • George Pradel

    George Pradel

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

    Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

Three financial experts -- including one who voted against a major toll increase -- were ousted from the Illinois tollway board even as it's poised to borrow billions for construction work.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board also lost popular Naperville Mayor George Pradel after appointments made Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Pradel plus board Directors Bill Morris of Grayslake, Maria Saldaña of Chicago and Thomas Canham of Evanston weren't brought back by the governor.

Morris called the administration plan to raise rates by 35 cents to 45 cents at most toll plazas to pay for a $12 billion repair and expansion program flawed. He countered with his own idea for a scaled-back construction program based on 15-cent toll hikes, but the original plan was approved 7-1 in August.

Quinn now has appointed Morris to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

New members include:

• DuPage County Board member Jeffrey Redick, an attorney who chairs the board's environmental committee.

• Bridgeview Bank President Mark Peterson, a former member of the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board and staffer for Gov. Jim Edgar.

• International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 President Jim Sweeney of Chicago. He served on the toll road's Strategic Advisory Team in 2010.

• Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez, who is an accountant.

• Former Chicago Automobile Trade Association Chairman Terrence D'Arcy, who heads up D'Arcy Buick and GMC in Joliet.

"I think we had great board members, and I'm sorry to see them go," tollway board Chairman Paula Wolff said Monday. "I look forward to seeing who gets appointed, and I look forward to working with them. These are the governor's choices -- his responsibility."

"He's the boss," Pradel said, regarding Quinn.

The terms of all tollway directors except Wolff's are expired, and Quinn had to either reappoint or choose new ones this week to conform to state law.

Quinn praised the financial expertise of Morris when he appointed a reform slate of directors in August 2009, in the wake of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption arrest and impeachment. Morris is a retired investment banker and former Waukegan mayor and state senator.

Quinn promised his 2009 appointees, including Morris, Wolff and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, would clean house and bring a new era of transparency to the agency.

Morris quickly became one of the most vocal directors on the tollway board and took a leadership role after Wolff named him to chair the customer service committee. He also served on the finance committee along with Canham and Saldaña, who was chairwoman.

Pradel said he was proud to have served on the tollway board and wanted to stay another term to see through the new construction program.

"I will miss the people," he said. "In the future this is going to be a development engine for northern Illinois. But I'm leaving on a positive note."

The tollway appointments require Senate consent.

"I do believe that there needs to be an engineer and a finance investment banker type on the board, especially as the system is being infused with enormous amounts of new money to repair and expand our tollways," state Sen. Kirk Dillard said.

The Hinsdale Republican added that "my eyebrows are raised by the fact Gov. Quinn is blowing off the squeaky wheel -- Bill Morris -- who also happens to have expertise in public finance."

Saldaña, who has worked as an investment banker, is chief of Cook County's economic development bureau. Canham is an attorney and partner with a real estate investment firm. Both Saldaña and Morris worked with tollway financial planners on bond issues.

Wolff said she had conveyed to Quinn's staff it would be helpful to have financial expertise among the new appointees.

"It's always good when we have people with professional experience, but I also think that all of us will be able to learn about the public financing (issues)," she said.

The tollway board numbers 11 people, including Quinn and the state transportation secretary as ex-officio members. Directors are paid $31,400 a year, although Wolff does not accept a salary.

Former Director James Roolf resigned from the board in the summer.

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