Former Pritzker Toll Chairman Will Evans Charged On Trial With Trying To Run Contracts And Hire Friends At The Agency
Shortly after taking office in 2019, Governor JB Pritzker signed legislation that restructures the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, promising “transparency and accountability” and declaring, “Our new leadership will uphold the highest ethical standards. high, will bring value to taxpayers and serve Illinois in every corner of our state.
A new lawsuit filed by two former top toll officials paints a different picture of the state agency under the Pritzker-chosen team, accusing former board chairman Will Evans of trying directing contracts to favored companies and engaging in patronage hiring.
“After an initial honeymoon phase, beginning in late 2020 and continuing through 2021, Evans, with the help of new Toll General Counsel Kathleen Pasulka-Brown, began trying to exercise enormous control over the toll’s operations and, in doing so, violated several state laws and toll policies,” according to the lawsuit, filed in DuPage County by Kimberly Ross and Dionna Brookens.
“Some highway executives allowed this to happen while others, including plaintiffs” and the agency’s top administrator, then executive director Jose Alvarez, “tried to stop it.”
Ross and Brookens say in the lawsuit that they were fired in retaliation for doing this and that Pasulka-Brown took the unusual step of sending Illinois State Police to Brookens’ home “to retrieve his toll property”.
Evans, a former People’s Gas executive who resigned from his toll post in February following a power struggle with Alvarez, among other controversies, could not be reached for comment.
Pritzker appointed Evans and Alvarez to the toll in 2019 after signing legislation, backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, that he said would reform the agency.
Alvarez resigned last March.
Pasulka-Brown, who was appointed to the tollbooth in 2019 by Attorney General Kwame Raoul with Evans’ consent, declined to comment.
A lawyer for Ross and Brookens said “neither I nor my clients will comment” on the lawsuit, which names Toll, Evans and Pasulka-Brown as defendants.
A Pritzker spokeswoman said on Friday: “The administration is not commenting on the ongoing litigation and had not seen the trial until yesterday. We take all allegations of wrongdoing seriously and will not tolerate any violations. of state law…. The governor is committed to ensuring that the tollway operates efficiently and ethically.
In 2019, Alvarez hired Ross as the agency’s administrative director, responsible for overseeing the toll’s “administrative, human resources and support services,” according to the lawsuit, which is one of several to have recently targeted the conduct of the toll brass.
Alvarez has hired Brookens as a purchasing compliance manager for the agency, which is planning more than $1 billion in capital improvements this year, tasked with “overseeing purchasing and contract compliance for the freeway toll,” the lawsuit says.
Last year, Evans inserted himself into the procurement process with a software company called SAP, according to the lawsuit.
“For a few years now, the toll has been using SAP software, which it sourced through a company called SAP, for some of its technology needs,” the suit reads. “In seeking to update other systems, Defendant Evans told Plaintiff Brookens and members of her team that he wanted to expand the reach of SAP within the highway instead of considering other Defendant Evans had worked with SAP when he was at People’s Gas.
“In or around March or April 2021, the CIO told Plaintiff Brookens that he felt pressured by Defendant Evans to move SAP expansion forward quickly without going through normal procurement processes. and legally required,” the lawsuit states.
“Around the same time, Plaintiff Brookens learned that Defendant Evans was having direct conversations with SAP representatives about expanding their systems within the toll lane,” which was problematic because the procurement law and rules “only allow procurement personnel to have these discussions and only at specific times in the process,” according to the lawsuit.
Later, Evans wanted “SAP employees to help expand the scope” of a bid solicitation, “giving them an advantage,” the lawsuit says.
It is not known how this situation ended.
Tollway officials had no comment beyond issuing a written statement that read, “Illinois Tollway strongly disputes the complainants’ unsubstantiated allegations and will vigorously seek to refute their allegations.”
An SAP spokesperson said the company “is not a party to the lawsuit and we do not comment on disputes.”
Also in 2021, the lawsuit accuses Evans of interfering in the hiring process – which set rules to prevent patronage hiring.
“Evans was aware of the Toll’s hiring policies, but between January and August 2021, he repeatedly urged Plaintiff Ross to ignore those policies and hire two of his friends,” the lawsuit states.