Pending legislation would clarify 'who's on first' at tollway

  • Legislation to clarify the role of the Illinois tollway chairman and executive director is being prepared amid an apparent power struggle.

    Legislation to clarify the role of the Illinois tollway chairman and executive director is being prepared amid an apparent power struggle. Daily Herald file photo

  • Laura Murphy

    Laura Murphy

 
 
Updated 1/7/2022 8:33 PM

Legislation to spell out exactly who is in charge at the Illinois tollway is pending in Springfield, officials said Friday.

A Senate bill is in the works that will clarify the role of the tollway chairman after questions about leadership at the $1.5 billion agency, Democratic state Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines said.

 

The move comes after Chairman Will Evans told senators at a Dec. 7 hearing that state law and tollway bylaws obligate him to act as both chairman and executive director. However, the agency has an executive director, José Alvarez, who is paid about $220,000 a year to run day-to-day operations.

"From the chairman's comments in front of the committee, it was clearly evident there were some structural problems," Murphy said.

The imbroglio stems from the board directors' vote Oct. 21 to delegate their authority to reorganize the agency's administrative offices and department to Evans.

Subsequently, Evans revised the chain of command so that the chief financial officer reported to him as well as Alvarez.

Evans also made the procurement and IT chiefs report to the CFO instead of Alvarez, and he fired two top administrators recruited by the executive director.

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The move stunned some lawmakers and the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus wrote Gov. J.B. Pritzker in November, saying, "It is highly unusual for a board chair to have a direct reporting structure that takes leadership responsibilities away from the executive director."

Evans defended the changes in an email to the staff that "this change will directly align procurement functions with financial management which will facilitate more comprehensive control and management of tollway spending."

The bill to clarify the chairman's responsibilities is being reviewed by the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Murphy is a co-sponsor of the bill, which is being spearheaded by Sen. Ram Villivalam, a Chicago Democrat and chairman of the Transportation Committee.

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