Ex-tollway executives file suit, allege cronyism

Two former high-ranking Illinois tollway executives accuse the agency's now-retired chairman of cronyism and overstepping his authority.

A lawsuit by former Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Ross and former Chief Procurement Officer Dionna Brookens says both were "terminated without cause" after pushing back against Will Evans and other officials.

The "tollway strongly disputes the plaintiffs' unsubstantiated claims and will vigorously seek to refute their allegations," spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said Monday.

The lawsuit states Evans "began trying to exert enormous control over the operations of the tollway" after Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed him as chairman in early 2019.

The lawsuit claims Evans pressured Ross to hire friends and interfered with awarding IT contracts, including a software procurement, partly to benefit another associate.

It also contends Evans had no authority to fire either Ross or Brookens and humiliated both by using the Illinois State Police to retrieve their tollway equipment at their homes.

Following a patronage scandal at the tollway under Gov. Bruce Rauner, Pritzker ushered in a new team that included Evans and previous Executive Director Jose Alvarez.

Alvarez, who raised concerns over hiring a number of colleagues from the Chicago Housing Authority to work at the tollway, left the agency in March.

But that was preceded by friction, and ultimately a power struggle ensued between the two men that resulted in state Senate scrutiny.

In fall 2021, Evans succeeded in getting the tollway board to delegate additional power to him.

Asked about the case Monday, Pritzker said, "It's an ongoing legal matter so we will let the tollway handle it."

On Saturday, a Pritkzer spokesman said Evans came to the tollway after 40 years in the private sector, "where he was not only an esteemed CEO. but also a highly respected and trailblazing African American leader."

The lawsuit was filed in DuPage County last week.

Evans did not respond to a request to comment.

• Daily Herald staff writer Paul Valade contributed to this report.

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