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New director means a full sweep for Illinois Tollway board

Then Chicago Housing Authority Chief of Staff Jose Alvarez meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2016. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Illinois Tollway on Thursday named Jose Alvarez, the former COO of the Chicago Housing Authority, as its executive director, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration completed a full sweep of the tollway’s board.

Alvarez also served as deputy chief of staff for Chicago Public Schools and chief of staff for the state superintendent of education for Washington, D.C., schools.

Alvarez replaces interim director Kevin Artl, who previously served as chief operating officer. Artl led the agency after former Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, whom former Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed in 2018, left the board in mid-March.

In a move that Pritzker’s administration touted as a way to “restore the public’s trust in the integrity of the government,” Pritzker in January signed legislation that dissolved the tollway board and wrote new ethics standards into law.

The governor’s office said in January the “inefficiency and self-dealing at the Illinois Tollway is well-documented and an example of why taxpayers don’t trust Illinois government,” citing a $9,000 expense spent for staff to attend banquets as just one example.

The administration, too, accused, Rauner’s tollway board of giving multi-million dollar contracts to political insiders.

The Daily Herald last year reported on procurement irregularities at the tollway, including contracts or hiring involving politically connected individuals or relatives of officials.

Pritzker in February appointed a completely new slate of directors. The new board includes Jim Sweeney, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times, and Karen McConnaughay, a former Republican state senator from St. Charles.

The tollway’s board has 11 members, including the governor and the secretary of transportation serving as ex-officio members. The chairman and directors are appointed by the governor and serve four-year terms.