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updated: 7/18/2018 7:57 AM

State senators putting tollway on the hot seat over hiring policies

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  • An Illinois Senate Committee will hold a hearing on Illinois tollway procurement policies next week.

    An Illinois Senate Committee will hold a hearing on Illinois tollway procurement policies next week.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

State senators will scrutinize Illinois tollway procurement policies next week after reports of potential conflicts of interest involving contracts.

A special hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee prompted by Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Chicago.

The Daily Herald has reported on tollway contracts involving firms that have political ties to Republicans or connections with tollway executives. The tollway board is appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The agency denies any patronage and said it follows state regulations on contracts.

"Due to recent allegations reported by the Daily Herald ... of potential irregularities of the procurement process, I feel that we owe it to the taxpayers of Illinois to ensure there is a transparent process," Democrat Murphy wrote in May to Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat.

Tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said the agency "would welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on our competitive bidding process, the safeguards we have in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest and the independent review our contracts are subject to in order to ensure maximum compliance, integrity and transparency."

One case that drew concerns from legislators involved a $6.6 million subcontract with Morreale Communications that piggybacked onto a larger engineering contract and thus did not require a separate vote by the tollway board. The PR firm's CEO, Kim Morreale, is married to Republican state Rep. Michael McAuliffe of Chicago. The tollway said the firm was chosen on its merits.

Another situation that raised questions was a $157 million contract with Omega and Associates for Tri-State Tollway management services in November.

Omega employs the grown children of tollway officials and has contributed to two board members' charities.

The tollway said the officials had separated themselves from the selection process.

Murphy said one policy she hopes to change would require the tollway to display all subcontracts on its website.

"There has to be accountability from government entities -- people are owed that," Murphy said. "We have laws and procurement regulations; we want to ensure those are being followed."

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.