No revote on controversial tollway contract, chairman pledges to avoid future mistakes

  • Illinois Tollway Authority board Chairman Will Evans said he will refrain from voting on contracts or other matters involving his former employer.

      Illinois Tollway Authority board Chairman Will Evans said he will refrain from voting on contracts or other matters involving his former employer. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Illinois tollway's new chairman has pledged to recuse himself from voting on future contracts with a former employer after an "inadvertent" mistake in April.

Will Evans, a former executive at HBK Engineering LLC, approved a $29.5 million contract involving his previous firm at a board meeting in April. The contract was awarded to Jacobs Engineering LLC, and HBK is one of the subcontractors, which raised concerns about potential conflict of interest.

After consulting with its attorneys, the tollway board did not conduct a new vote on the contract on Thursday as previously promised, however.

Evans said he had "every intention" of redoing the vote and recusing himself, however, the tollway's legal staff advised such a move could jeopardize it and other contracts. Agency lawyers noted the measure would have passed regardless, he said.

From an operational perspective, "I cannot allow my oversight to set this agency back," Evans said.

"That said, publicly I would like to reiterate that my vote (on the contract) was an oversight and to avoid any perception of a conflict I should have recused myself. Moving forward I intend to recuse myself from all matters involving HBK."

Tollway officials said the HBK portion comes to less than $150,000 of the contract.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed Evans, a Skokie resident, to the state agency on Feb. 28, saying the new board would set high standards for ethics and transparency.

Earlier, the General Assembly fired the former board after a series of articles by the Daily Herald detailing concerns about nepotism and excessive spending.

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One of the first actions the new tollway board took was to tighten ethics standards and create an independent group within the agency to review conflicts of interest, Evans said.

Pritzker on June 6 told the Daily Herald he had confidence in Evans. "He made a mistake and won't do it again. There's every evidence this board is very serious about maintaining a high integrity."

Evans is former CEO of Peoples Gas, and was chief diversity officer for HBK before he resigned on Feb. 27. He listed his position with HBK in a statement of economic interest filed with the state.

HBK Engineering also has an ongoing $5 million tollway contract to handle underground utility locations and other duties upon request.

The contract in question was for design management services on the Elgin-O'Hare Western Access Corridor.

A state Senate committee questioned Evans about the issue but approved his nomination June 12; the full Senate will vote this fall.

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