Prompted by Daily Herald reports and a state Senate panel's hearing on possible conflicts of interest, an ad hoc committee for the Illinois Tollway has taken a brief, preliminary look in the mirror and guess what? It doesn't see that anything's wrong.
In fact, tollway board member Craig Johnson, mayor of Elk Grove Village, says he is "extremely impressed."
At a recent meeting, witnesses including a former official of the Illinois Department of Transportation and two tollway consultants said the process for hiring executives and establishing contracts adheres to state law and has "a great deal of transparency."
If so, the situation may be even more alarming than it appeared at first blush. For something is surely amiss somewhere when the tollway cannot see the reasons for skepticism after it selects a person with no engineering experience who has not worked since her job as an office-furniture sales associate 18 years ago but does have a family relationship to a top state political figure ahead of other candidates for a job overseeing engineering contracts.
The mirror surely has some flaw when it doesn't reflect something blurry and in need of attention when the agency creates a need for public relations services on top of what its 11-person full-time PR staff handles and issues a $6.6 million contract with a firm whose CEO is wife of a state legislator.
Surely, the reflection is not complete when it doesn't suggest a blemish in the awarding of a $157 million contract to an engineering company that employs the grown children of tollway executives and donates to the charities of some tollway board members.
All of these things may be legal. All of them may have reasonable justification. But in our mirror, they certainly look unsightly.
Ed Gower, a former IDOT attorney, told the tollway board that maybe it just needs a little more education on what conflict of interest is. Maybe, he says in a story reported by our Marni Pyke, it would be "in the tollway's best interest to try to get a little more guidance on conflict of interest issues and put a little more meat into conflict of interest materials distributed to the board."
We're not sure how much more expertise it takes to see the suspicious nature of some of these activities, but if education is what the tollway board members need, we strongly encourage them to seek it -- hopefully, of course, not at the expense of a multimillion-dollar subcontract conveniently connected to politically connected friends or family.