More tollway drama at the top? Interim executive director apparently out as new ED is selected
Just months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker brought in new Illinois tollway leaders to stabilize the agency amid a power struggle, it appears new turbulence is surfacing at the top.
Officials announced Friday they had chosen Chief Operating Officer Cassaundra Rouse as executive director, but they did not clarify the status of Lanyea Griffin, who had been interim executive director.
"I'm pleased to announce that Cassaundra Rouse will be serving as the tollway's executive director," tollway Chairwoman Dorothy Abreu said in a statement. "Cassaundra's prior experience in audit and compliance, as well as her long-standing experience in other leadership roles at the tollway, will allow her to hit the ground running as executive director.
"I also want to thank Lanyea Griffin for her long-standing tollway service, especially during this time of transition."
In February, Pritzker appointed banker Abreu of Wilmette as board chairman, and in March, Griffin, the tollway's deputy chief of program implementation and an engineer, was picked as interim executive director.
The two women replaced Chairman Will Evans and Executive Director Jose Alvarez, who left amid internal friction.
On Wednesday, the tollway board held a special meeting that included an "Executive Director" item for discussion. Directors met in closed session and later voted on the item, but no further information was provided.
Legislative and industry sources told the Daily Herald on Friday that Griffin had left the agency, but tollway officials did not confirm her status.
Sen. Laura Murphy, who has led a number of tollway reform efforts under Democratic and Republican administrations, said she's concerned about more upheavals.
"I understand there's some issues occurring at the tollway," the Des Plaines Democrat said Friday. "There may be some potential changes coming as they work through these processes."
Republican Sen. Don DeWitte, another tollway watchdog, blamed the turmoil on the governor's office.
"The persistent meddling of the governor's office with day-to-day operations may very well have caused the purported exit of someone with over 10 years of institutional knowledge and experience in that organization," said DeWitte, of St. Charles.
That's "nearly four years of ongoing chaos and confusion within this significant transportation infrastructure organization," DeWitte said.
On Wednesday, Pritkzer rallied with Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council members, including tollway Director Gary Perinar, the union's executive secretary-treasurer.
"Gary's doing a great job on the board. So are the other board members," Pritzker said. "I'm pleased going forward they're continuing to make the tollway one of the most fiscally responsible boards that we have."
Pritzker ushered in a new tollway board and leaders in 2019 as part of a reform agenda. But a major reorganization instituted by Evans in the fall of 2021 worried lawmakers it impinged on the executive director's powers to run day-to-day operations. Meanwhile, Alvarez drew scrutiny after hiring a number of former colleagues for executive positions.
State senators held hearings on the dysfunction and approved a bill intended to define the chain of command at the agency last year.
"We passed legislation through the Senate, and hopefully the House will take it up, that really delineates responsibilities. Clearly, that's definitely needed there," Murphy said. "They need to do the business of the tollway."