Tollway chief sets new course for challenged agency
The Illinois tollway's new chief pledged to take a fresh look at the status quo, including scrutinizing existing contracts, financial practices and controversial perks such as employee I-PASS transponders.
Kristi Lafleur, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Pat Quinn, started as Illinois State Toll Highway Authority executive director April 19 and presided over her first board meeting Thursday.
Lafleur's challenges include guiding the agency in tough economic times and helping to decide what its next major road project should be. The authority also is trying to restore public confidence following a major lag in sending out toll violation notices and from ties to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption arrest. Blagojevich allegedly tried to extort donations from a highway contractor for a tollway project, a charge he denies.
"The tollway has already accomplished much to repair its tarnished image. We can do more," Lafleur said.
Among her priorities will be to review staff perks such as 1,463 nonrevenue I-PASS transponders given to employees for travel to and from work. Other benefits include 46 staff laptops, 173 cell phones, 153 flip phones, 78 Blackberries and 56 permanently assigned vehicles.
Lafleur said she would look to new guidelines for assigning state vehicles to employees that assess fuel costs, miles driven and whether the cars are needed for emergencies or not.
Although previous administrations concluded such privileges had benefits, "we need to make sure that benefit is quantified," Lafleur said.
After becoming governor, Quinn appointed four replacement board members including Chairman Paula Wolff. There's also been significant turnover of senior staff.
Lafleur acknowledged the new regime had instituted some meaningful reforms and said she wanted to up the ante.
"I want to launch a top-to-bottom review of programs and finances," Lafleur said, adding she might consider bringing in an outside firm to do the analysis.
She also promised to scrutinize all major operations and maintenance contracts.
Lafleur has convened a committee of volunteers ranging from tax watchdogs to transit agencies to environmental groups to labor unions, to advise on the future of the tollway and its goals. The group meets for the first time in May and will complete a report by fall.
"It's a great opportunity to get outside eyes and voices involved in the process," Lafleur said.
Michael King, who served as acting executive director since February 2009, has returned to his former job as communications chief.