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New tollway chief? No one told the new governor
He learned of tollway pick in newspaper
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn speaks to members of the Democratic Party of DuPage County at the Drury Lane theater in Oakbrook Terrace.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/9/2009 12:29 AM

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When the tollway board picked a new chief Friday to run the multibillion-dollar highway system that rings the suburbs, Gov. Pat Quinn knew nothing about it.

He read about it in the paper - and said he was "disturbed."

"We are not going to take it quietly," Quinn told the Daily Herald Sunday. "You can tell them, 'I'm on my way.'"

In recent months, the tollway had a revolving door at its executive director post as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges and kicked out of office.

Quinn took over, but he didn't appoint any of the tollway board members, which is normally the way governors control the agency.

Tollway board Chairman John Mitola, who was reappointed in the past two years by Blagojevich, said he wasn't concerned about not telling Quinn on Friday because it was the board's sole authority to make the appointment to one of the state's largest agencies.

"We will give great deference to the governor. We will be respectful of his role," he said.

Quinn, however, wants a "comprehensive overhaul" of the agency Mitola has run since Blagojevich took office in 2003.

Officially, the governor's role is as a nonvoting board member in addition to appointing the board and chairman. Some terms are set to expire soon, and Quin n alluded to those as a way he might effect his will on the agency.

At the same time, Quinn said he could make a surprise appearance at a tollway board meeting.

"I won't be reluctant to speak out," he said.

But what Quinn will do, or how he will do it, remains unclear. He previously told the Daily Herald he wants to suspend and review the so-called "Green Lanes" project, which federal prosecutors say Blagojevich was trying to use to extract campaign contributions from a highway contractor. The $1.8 billion project would set aside one lane of traffic for carpoolers and those willing to pay higher tolls. Quinn did ask the tollway to cover up Blagojevich's name on the tollway signs that have drawn criticism for years. The tollway complied with his request.

"I'm glad they did it and they did it quickly," Quinn said. "We may have some more suggestions coming."

As for the CEO appointment, Quinn said he is concerned about the high rate of turnover. The newest acting director is Mike King, who was formerly the tollway's public relations chief.

Mitola called him the lead candidate to take on the job permanently.

"We are going to take a real look at what is going on there," Quinn said.