Pritzker brings in new tollway board
Gov. J.B. Pritzker put his own stamp on the Illinois tollway Thursday, sweeping out the former board of directors after concerns about "corruption" at the agency involving hiring and contracts.
"It is a new day for the Illinois tollway," Pritzker said. "Our new leadership will uphold the highest ethical standards, deliver the value to taxpayers and serve Illinoisans in every corner of our state. I'm proud to usher in a new wave of transparency and accountability at this critical agency."
The incoming directors include three union officials in construction trades, two civic leaders, business executives, and people with expertise in engineering and architecture.
Thursday was the deadline for Pritzker to act on a bill enacted in January ending the terms of board members after reports of cronyism at the agency.
The new tollway chairman is Will Evans, an electrical engineer who is the retired president of People's Gas and North Shore Gas and now an energy consultant. The Skokie resident also is president of the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association.
Suburban representatives include former state Sen. Karen McConnaughay of Geneva; Western Springs Village President Alice Gallagher; Wheaton resident Stephen Davis, who is chairman of The Will Group; Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway President Scott Paddock of Orland Park; and architect Cesar Santoy of Berwyn. Paddock is not related to the longtime owners of Paddock Publications, which publishes the Daily Herald.
Western Springs borders on the Central Tri-State Tollway, which is being widened.
"It's important for someone who has a municipality along that stretch to advocate on behalf of all the municipalities," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said she would bring honesty to the position. "It's important to have a board that's trustworthy. I will keep in mind who does pay for improvements, and that's the customers and the users."
Davis is a frequent tollway user and remembered when tolls weren't automated and drivers would line up at booths.
"I was one of the first people who saw the benefits of open-road tolling," he said. "I appreciate the governor having confidence in us to do the job."
Labor representatives include International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 President James Sweeney, a former tollway director; Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters executive Gary Perinar of Shorewood; and Chicago and Vicinity Laborers' District Council Business Manager Jim Connolly of Palos Park.
Sweeney said he is honored to return. "Illinois' economy rests upon our status as a national infrastructure hub, and the tollway plays an invaluable role in maintaining that economic strength," he said.
The governor selects tollway board directors. The most recent board was appointed by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner with some terms that had been set to expire in May. Typically, new governors bring in teams that reflects their priorities, but the directors finish out their terms, which is why the General Assembly's actions were so momentous.
The Daily Herald reported about the tollway board awarding a $157 million contract to a company that employed the tollway chairman's daughter and the son of the chief engineer, recruiting GOP insiders for high-paying positions, approving a $6 million contract with a politically connected PR firm, spending thousands of dollars to send staff members to banquets where tollway leaders were speakers, and more.
Tollway officials said the agency operates ethically and follows state law.
Tollway Executive Director Elizabeth Gorman is still at the agency, but usually an incoming governor will nudge the board to hire a successor.
Former tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom resigned Jan. 30.
"I am certain every tollway board (member) approached their work with one goal, and that was to leave the agency in an improved position," Schillerstrom wrote Pritzker. "I believe we have done just that. The Illinois tollway is one of the most highly regarded networks of roads in the nation."
But in July before his election, Pritzker said this of the tollway to the Daily Herald: "We've got to make sure we get that kind of corruption out of government. We need to make sure that those kinds of self-dealing and machine politics get rooted out of state government."
The tollway has nine directors plus the Illinois Department of Transportation secretary and governor as ex officio members.
Directors are paid about $31,426 a year and the chairman receives $36,077.
"These are solid appointments by the governor and bring various areas of vital expertise or balance to the tollway at a critical busy time for the authority," Regional Transportation Authority Chairman and former state Sen. Kirk Dillard said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.