Gov. Bruce Rauner wants the Illinois tollway to get its act together regarding reports about nepotism, potential patronage and infighting among executives.
At a Daily Herald editorial board interview Wednesday, the incumbent Republican said he "was pretty upset" regarding the tollway's hiring the sister-in-law of GOP House Leader Jim Durkin as engineering manager in 2017.
"I'm troubled by some of the allegations that have surfaced," Rauner said. "I've called the board and said, 'Look, guys, If I have to send in some investigators, I'll do it.'"
Asked to elaborate, Rauner said he was talking to tollway officials and his staff, and "we'll make a decision about what should be done."
The Illinois Senate held a hearing in July after the Daily Herald reported on the tollway's hiring PR firms with Republican ties and an engineering consultant that employs the grown children of tollway executives.
Rauner is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger and Hyatt hotel chain heir J.B. Pritzker in the Nov. 6 election. The governor appoints or reappoints tollway board members.
Rauner campaigned in 2014 on ridding Illinois' government of cronyism, and he frequently excoriates Pritzker and House Speaker Michael Madigan on that subject.
Laura Durkin's last job was in office furniture sales in 2001, the Daily Herald reported; tollway leaders contend she was the most qualified person for the $80,000-a-year engineering department job. The tollway also has a $6.6 million subcontract with Morreale Communications as part of a larger engineering contract. The firm is led by CEO Kim Morreale, who is married to Chicago's only Republican state representative, Michael McAuliffe. Tollway officials say they follow state procurement laws and the Morreale firm was hired on its merits.
The agency is "in the middle of an operations review process to improve and enhance our operations. The review process, which is open to the public, has heard from state and national experts who have examined tollway procurement and hiring processes," spokesman Dan Rozek said.
Rauner, a venture capitalist from Winnetka, called fighting corruption Illinois "a full-time, full daily effort."
"There are some politicians in Illinois who treat government as their family business," Rauner said. Exposure has lessened corruption, "but that culture is still there, and we've got to work to get it out."
"We've tried to put good people in (at the tollway)," Rauner said. He added tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and Executive Director Liz Gorman are intelligent and well-intentioned, and his board appointees are "good people."
But he appeared concerned about recent friction among officials. "You have a duty to work together to make sure the tollway works for the taxpayers," he said.
Pritzker said in July that "we've got to make sure we rid the tollway and every agency of government of the corruption that we've seen from the past."
The tollway will release a report of its findings along with recommendations for changes next month.