'What's wrong with you guys?' Arroyo scolded tollway after it dumped his donor

A former state representative recently arrested on federal bribery charges lambasted Illinois tollway directors for "hanky-panky" in 2016 after they rejected a contract with a fence company that donated to his campaign.

"What the heck is going on here, you guys?" Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo scolded tollway directors on Sept. 22, 2016. "Something stinks at the tollway."

Sound familiar? Here's why it might be: In an Oct. 7 column, we reported state Sen. Martin Sandoval also declared "this stinks" at the same 2016 meeting regarding the fence contractor, who donated to his campaign fund as well.

Arroyo was arrested Oct. 25 and accused of giving a $2,500 bribe to an unnamed state senator to promote gambling legislation. Arroyo resigned Friday, saying he did not want to be a "distraction." He did not respond to requests for comment.

FBI agents raided Sandoval's Springfield office Sept. 24 for items related to highway and construction companies, lobbyists and transportation documents. He has not been charged.

Back in 2016, both lawmakers protested the tollway board was ignoring minority contractors.

"Shame on you Latinos here that were put on this committee to support the Latinos," Arroyo said to Directors Joe Gomez and David Gonzalez. "You guys are not doing your job."

The board in July 2016 voted against a $6.7 million contract with Industrial Fence Inc., a Hispanic-, veteran-owned business in Chicago that was the low bidder. The decision came after an unsuccessful applicant complained the process was unfair. Arroyo said he wasn't there to recommend a contractor but to talk about the process.

"What's wrong with you guys?" Arroyo asked the tollway board. "You guys got a qualified company that bid on a job and he was the low bidder and all you guys voted against him.

"All you guys - you being replaced. ... Start doing something different because we're going to change that. Marty and I, we're going to change that. We're going to have hearings, and we're going to put you ... right front (and) center ... and have all the Latino contractors just come and just look at you guys," Arroyo said when addressing the tollway board.

"There's hanky-panky going on. ... There's a little insider trading here. I don't like it, and there's going to be changes (with) the way the tollway spends the money," he said.

Friends of Luis Arroyo and Arroyo Open PAC received $7,750 from Industrial Fence from 2008 to 2018. The company has donated more than $12,000 to Sandoval, according to state records.

It's not unusual for local or state leaders to vent at the tollway board. The Route 53 extension, for example, drew numerous mayors and lawmakers, but their remarks were focused on the project rather than the contractors.

Government watchdogs say it's inappropriate for lawmakers to petition decision-makers on the outcome of any contract.

But ethics rules governing lawmakers' conduct do not restrict them from lobbying other governmental entities and getting compensated for it. Lawmakers are also allowed to lobby for legislation in the General Assembly - but cannot be compensated for it.

"If there is nothing in state law to prohibit an individual legislator from advocating for a specific firm and good common sense isn't working, then we need a new law," former tollway director and state Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake said.

The tollway later awarded a $5.7 million contact to Industrial Fence.

"In every instance the tollway recommended to the board of directors the lowest qualified bidder. This was a competitive procurement that, in the end, resulted in three qualified bidders and the lowest bidder being awarded the contract," tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.

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One more thing

It's tollway budget time and you don't have to be a senator to give officials an earful or praise, or ask a question. Budget hearings are set for 3 p.m. Nov. 12, at tollway headquarters, 2700 Ogden Ave. in Downers Grove; 6 p.m. Nov. 13, at the Burr Ridge Police Department, 7700 S. County Line Road; and 6 p.m. Nov. 14, at the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court.

You should know

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski is still scheduled to speak at the City Club of Chicago Nov. 12 despite a number of state officials pulling out of engagements after the FBI executed a search warrant at the club's headquarters. Among those who have called off speaking engagements are tollway Executive Director Jose Alvarez, who canceled an Oct. 22 appearance. The move comes at Gov. J.B. Pritzker's behest.

"While questions remain about the City Club's involvement in the ongoing federal investigation, the administration is recommending state agencies pursue alternative forums to communicate with the public," a Pritzker spokeswoman said.

City Club officials said they are not the subject of the FBI investigation.

Gridlock alert

Winter's almost here but construction season continues. IDOT crews will be replacing medians, curbs and gutters on Golf Road in Schaumburg through December. The work will stretch from Basswood Street to I-290/Route 53. Drivers should plan for delays.

Choose the artist

Monday is the last day to vote in the tollway's annual Map Cover Art Contest. This year's theme honors the work of the Illinois State Police. High school students across Illinois compete for the privilege of having their artwork displayed on the tollway's 2020 map, distributed to about 75,000 people. View and vote on the 10 finalists at illinoistollway.

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Illinois tollway directors got an earful in 2016 from Rep. Luis Arroyo, who was arrested in a bribery case, after they rejected a bid from a fencing contractor that had donated to the Chicago Democrat's campaigns. Daily Herald file photo
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