Tollway suggests changes to fix cronyism concerns
Illinois tollway directors will vote this month on 19 recommendations intended to tighten controls over hiring and purchasing policies at the agency following concerns about patronage.
Among the suggestions in a draft report released Thursday are: disclosing names of people on a committee that makes key decisions on hiring consultants and preventing board directors from sitting on that committee, providing more state oversight of no-bid contracts, and requiring directors to publicly state conflicts of interest.
"We said all along we believe the tollway is following the law, the tollway is a good organization, but as with any organization, we should be open to hearing from others," Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said.
The changes follow a series of Daily Herald reports on no-bid contracts and hiring of people with connections to tollway executives and Republican lawmakers. As a result, the Illinois Senate held a hearing in July on tollway procurement procedures where lawmakers raised concerns about contracts and hiring. These included a $6.6 million contract with a PR firm whose CEO is married to a Republican lawmaker and a $137 million contract with an engineering firm whose employees include grown children of tollway executives.
After the hearing, Schillerstrom appointed an ad hoc committee to review tollway operations.
Rosemont Mayor and Director Brad Stephens suggested at a Thursday Ad Hoc Operations Review Committee that it would increase transparency if the board informed the public about any potential conflicts when contracts are awarded.
Elk Grove Village Mayor and Director Craig Johnson asked for clarification regarding hiring. "As directors, are we prohibited from recommending people?" he asked.
"Your primary responsibility is to set policy, but I don't think that precludes you from making a recommendation," Schillerstrom said.
Johnson specified his question regarded being asked if his name could be used as a reference.
Other ideas include posting board member statements of economic interest, updating job descriptions, better documenting of hiring, tightening rules for staff with conflicts serving on selection committees and limiting the role of external PR consultants. The report is at illinoistollway.com/about/board-information/2018-ad-hoc-operations.