Editorial: Removing old tollway board is just the first step

  • J.B. Pritzker will set the tone for ethics at the Illinois Tollway Authority when, as governor, he nominates replacements for its new board of directors.

    J.B. Pritzker will set the tone for ethics at the Illinois Tollway Authority when, as governor, he nominates replacements for its new board of directors. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

With signals from Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, the General Assembly has fast-tracked a measure to, quoting one state senator, "fumigate" the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors by ending the terms of all nine members.

This is encouraging on many fronts. But the real proof of the new administration's commitment to ethical management of the tollway system will show in the replacements Pritzker nominates for the new board and the tone he sets for demanding openness and ethics in the agency's future actions.

While the tollway board under Chairman Bob Schillerstrom had taken some steps to address complaints of partisanship and patronage, most members seemed never to get it when questions were raised -- almost entirely through the investigative reporting of the Daily Herald's Marni Pyke -- about such actions as the hiring of a politically connected woman for an engineering oversight job whose most recent work experience was in furniture sales 18 years earlier or the awarding of a $157 million contract to a firm that employs the grown children of three tollway board members. Investigations of these and other actions resulted repeatedly in the board exonerating itself, often with declarations of praise for its high principles. The board's ethical blind spot went on full display when, amid supposed efforts to reform its standards, the board removed the term "potential" from its bylaws forbidding conflicts of interest then gave its chairman veto-proof powers. Now we wait to see if the governor and the new board demonstrate with equal clarity that they are ethically "woke."

That starts with ensuring that both political parties are represented on the new board -- a stipulation that in itself won't be remarkable since the law requires it. But the independence and public service backgrounds of the directors Pritzker recommends will tell a lot about whether the old Republican partisanship is simply being replaced with new Democratic partisanship.

Then, much will depend on the marching orders the new governor delivers to the board. The bill the General Assembly is handing Pritzker to sign offers encouragement on that score by requiring the new board to reinstate the word "potential" in its prohibition against conflicts of interest. We look forward to further direction the governor provides and to his signals that politically or personally motivated actions by the tollway board and its staff will not be tolerated.

"The governor-elect's administration is moving swiftly to restore the public's trust in the integrity of the government," Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudeyyeh said Monday before the state House approved the bill ending tollway board members' terms.

So far, so good. But the true test will come in the makeup of the new board and the ethical principles those members display.

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