Editorial: We still need answers on the troubling tollway leadership shift

State lawmakers asked about the leadership shift, and they're right to say the answers are troubling

  • Chairman Will Evans' reorganization of some of the tollway leadership has rightly raised questions.

    Chairman Will Evans' reorganization of some of the tollway leadership has rightly raised questions. Daily Herald File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/25/2022 1:00 AM

In November, after an Oct. 21 Illinois tollway board vote to give Chairman Will Evans authority to reorganize the agency's leadership structure and take more control, and before a Dec. 7 state Senate Transportation Committee hearing to ask Evans about those changes, we said we would watch with interest to see how the tollway's stated goal to "strengthen internal controls" would progress.

The Dec. 7 hearing happened. It did not look good for Evans and the tollway board. So much so that Senate legislation since has been created to clarify the tollway chairman's role.


The senators are right to keep pressing the issue. It's one of those cases where city and suburban lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, agree.

The tollway's board of directors approved the leadership reorganization in a vote that took barely a minute. Evans then quickly revised the chain of command so that the chief financial officer reports to him as well as Executive Director Jose Alvarez. Evans also made the procurement and IT chiefs report to the CFO, rather than to Alvarez. Plus he fired two top administrators Alvarez had recruited.

The chairman's job is part-time, appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, while Alvarez's is a $220,000-a-year full-time position devoted to running day-to-day operations -- and he was hired by the tollway board.

At the Dec. 7 Senate committee hearing, Evans said that as chairman, "my responsibility is to have general supervision over all power, duties, obligations and functions of the authority." He referred to the Tollway Highway Act.

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Lawmakers from Chicago pounced.

"So you don't think there's any kind of conflict being on the governance side and on the operations side?" Sen. Ram Villivalam asked.

"I have to do it. I'm obligated to do it," Evans responded.

"It's very troubling," Democratic state Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines said after the hearing. "That's why we're going to continue to hold hearings." And Republican Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles said the board's resolution empowering Evans "is contrary to language contained in the tollway act."

Murphy is now co-sponsor of Villivalam's legislation to clarify the roles of tollway leaders. It's good that somebody is acting. Evans' grabbing so much power is suspicious, and Pritzker has pretty much turned his back on the whole thing, saying conflicts happen in organizations.

It's true suspicions have been raised about Alvarez, too. He brought in nine people he worked with at the Chicago Housing Authority and put them in well-paid positions he created, many in procurement.

But if Evans and the tollway board have problems with Alvarez and his team, let's hear them. The chairman and board are right to raise questions in their oversight roles, but they shouldn't take control of tollway operations themselves. Now we will watch with interest to see how the senators' inquiries progress.

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