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Lawmakers question possible Tollway contract conflicts

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Tollway officials are defending the awarding of contracts to firms with political connections or ties to Tollway employees.

The deals being examined include a $6.6 million, five-year public relations subcontract awarded last year to Morreale Communications. The company is owned by Kim Morreale, who’s married to Republican state Rep. Michael McAuliffe of Chicago.

Tollway Executive Director Liz Gorman on Tuesday told the state Senate Transportation Committee that all contracts were awarded within the law and followed rules for transparency.

“All prospective vendors are required by law to submit comprehensive conflict-of-interest forms which are thoroughly evaluated by the Illinois Tollway,” Gorman said.

Democratic Sen. David Koehler of Peoria said state officials should avoid the perception of a conflict.

Morreale Communications is needed to reach out to residents affected by construction, Tollway executives said.

Former Democratic state Sen. Bill Morris is also a former Tollway board member. He told the committee that board members weren’t properly reviewing contracts and should resign. Morris is a frequent critic of the current board, appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“There’s never a ‘no’ vote on the Tollway board anymore,” Morris said.

Morris said the state should require all board members, administrators and senior executives to regularly disclose to the public any contacts with firms seeking contracts with the Tollway. He also recommended that the state end the $30,000 annual salaries for Tollway board members and replace them with a limited $150 per diem for attendance at each meeting.

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