The Illinois tollway's new Executive Director Elizabeth Gorman will be paid $215,000 a year, $29,000 more than her predecessor.
Gorman, a former Republican Cook County commissioner and PricewaterhouseCoopers executive, was approved by the tollway board Feb. 22. At the time her salary was being negotiated.
Six days earlier on Feb. 16, then-Executive Director Greg Bedalov resigned to lead up another state agency. In 2017, he was paid $186,000. Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn makes $150,000 a year.
"The bottom line is -- you have to pay for quality," Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said. "What we're doing there is trying to build a team and we want the best people possible to lead the team because we're working on really big projects."
Gorman was hired by a unanimous vote of tollway directors, who are appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Hiring a tollway executive director is a somewhat amorphous process.
In 2015, after Rauner defeated former Gov. Pat Quinn, he put his own stamp on the tollway with a new slate of board members and Bedalov, an economic development expert.
In 2009, fresh from the indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Democrat Quinn appointed a board that took an active role in interviewing executive director finalists. In 2010, they chose Kristi Lafleur, a former top Quinn aide experienced in economic development.
This time, Schillerstrom played a lead role in Gorman's hiring, saying he never spoke to Rauner personally about her candidacy, although the governor's staff was apprised.
Gorman has an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, chaired Cook County's Transportation Committee and was PricewaterhouseCoopers director of state and local government.
"She's got the ability to work with people in the private and public sectors, she understands transportation and frankly she's worth every cent we pay her," Schillerstrom said.
Gorman served as chairwoman of the Cook County Republican Organization in the late 2000s and is Orland Township Republican Organization committeeman. The Cook County GOP gave Rauner a crucial endorsement in his tight primary race with state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton on Feb. 5.
Rauner's office referred all questions to the tollway.
Ives called the salary "outrageous. Board members should have to approve any personnel contract above $150,000 in a public meeting," she said, adding she has sponsored legislation to that effect.
Tollway Director Joseph Gomez said he learned Gorman was to be the new executive director at the Feb. 22 meeting.
"We knew nothing about how the selection was made nor did we decide the salary," he said.
Director Neli Vasquez-Rowland said she thought Gorman's salary was set higher based on comparisons with her peers and to reflect her "extensive experience."
"My understanding is the (hiring) process allows the governor's office to nominate and recommend a qualified candidate," she said.
Rauner is an ex officio member of the tollway board.
The Rev. Corey Brooks, a tollway director, said "the process that was used seems fair to me. (Gorman is) very competent and capable ... I'm more than satisfied. We're lucky to have got her."
Schillerstrom noted that board members had the opportunity to meet with Gorman and review her credentials before the vote.
"We certainly have added substantial value to our executive team," he said.
As executive director, Gorman will help guide the tollway's $12 billion road rebuilding program, a $4 billion Central Tri-State reconstruction and a $353 million operating budget in 2018.
Gorman has weathered personal financial troubles in the past. Her husband closed his Chrysler and Dodge dealership in Midlothian in 2010 before filing for bankruptcy. Gorman filed for bankruptcy separately that year. The filings were related to a lawsuit filed by Daimler Chrysler against the Gormans in 2006, in which the automaker won a $4.2 million settlement.
Gorman told the Daily Herald in 2014 the family had recovered and "it's not what gets thrown at you, it's how you overcome that difficulty." She did not return calls Friday.
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One more thing
Cary commuters can kiss their antique Metra station goodbye. Metra directors approved a $2.4 million contract to build a new depot with a ticket agent office Wednesday. The contractor is Accel Construction Services Group; Metra will pay $2 million and Cary will chip in the remainder. The new station will offer heated floors, a covered waiting area and a shelter, electronic parking fee collection boxes, new fencing and landscaping. Work starts this summer and will take a year.
Frederick Dibbern of Buffalo Grove thinks the Route 53 extension project missed the boat. "The problem I have with Route 53 is that it should have been built years ago," Dibbern wrote. "When it was extended to Lake-Cook Road they should have tied it to Route 12 and widened Route 12. This would have been seemingly much easier due to the fact that the basic road was there and could have been possibly widened. You could have possibly put in a spur somewhere north of Route 22 to turn into the Tri-State Tollway up north."
Sorry, Route 53 drivers. IDOT will be closing lanes on Route 53 between Hobson Road and 75th Street near Woodridge this week to repair retaining walls and upgrade drainage. The project will be completed in the fall.