A routine Illinois tollway board meeting became charged with tension Thursday after one board director denounced "bullies" and "cowards," then left after recusing himself from a vote.
Director Joseph Gomez of Northfield said "after three challenging years," he was stepping down as finance committee chairman and intended to focus his remaining time on promoting opportunities for minorities and Hispanics at the agency.
Gomez recused himself on a vote on a $1 million contract with Mesirow Insurance Services and decried anonymous complaints he said were sent to the governor's office and others alleging he had steered contracts. Gomez worked as a financial consultant for Mesirow in 2014 for about 45 days, he said. He was appointed to the tollway by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015.
"Bullies and cowards never sign their names to letters," Gomez said. He noted his parents came to America from the Dominican Republic to escape the tyranny of a dictator and told him "if you ever have to face a bully -- never run because all bullies are cowards."
The board later at the meeting approved new committee assignments from Chairman Robert Schillerstrom including naming Director Earl Dotson Jr. as Gomez's replacement. Dotson, of Rockford, has an MBA and is communications chief for Rockford School District 205.
"I want to congratulate Bob Schillerstrom's personal hand-picked choice as Chairman of Finance Earl Dotson. I congratulate you and hope you are up to the challenge ... and the liability," Gomez said.
Tollway meetings are typically bland affairs unless controversial road projects such as the Central Tri-State rebuild and Route 53 extension draw visitors. The agency has undergone some churn lately with the departure of Executive Director Greg Bedalov in mid-February.
"I wish to thank my fellow board members who helped and guided me," Gomez said. "I want to thank Greg Bedalov ... he was a rock and very honest."
Asked about implied criticisms, Schillerstrom said Gomez hadn't indicated to him there were any issues. "I just don't know," he said.
Regarding the recusal, Schillerstrom said directors recuse themselves from voting on pertinent items on a regular basis and he couldn't comment on Gomez's remarks.
Gomez, a banker, has previously worked for the state's Bureau of Banking and U.S. Department of Commerce as a consultant.