Cost of former tollway chief's exit: $111,500
The Illinois tollway's revolving executive suite drama is coming at a high cost for customers.
Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Executive Director José Alvarez was paid a lump sum of $111,500 predicated upon his resignation effective March 14.
Tollway officials did not offer any detailed explanations for the $111,500 parachute, which equals about 117,368 trips at 95 cents each through the Touhy Toll Plaza.
But a board resolution dated April 26 states the former top executive "was separated from the tollway and thereafter offered to resign. It is in the best interests of the tollway to accept Mr. Alvarez's resignation."
It's been a tumultuous year on the top floor of the $1.5 billion agency.
Alvarez's exit was preceded by the departure of Chairman Will Evans in February amid a power struggle between the two leaders. And last month, interim Executive Director Lanyea Griffin abruptly left.
Republican Sen. Don DeWitte, a former St. Charles mayor, said it's not unusual for top executives to get substantial checks when they leave, and such deals are often contractual obligations.
What's troubling is that the pricey goodbye occurred in the first place, DeWitte contended. He blames Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his aides. The governor appoints the tollway board and by proxy the executive director.
"I add the tollway authority to the list of Illinois departments -- the Department of Employment Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs -- that seem to contain a level of dysfunction that doesn't serve any of the taxpayers of this state very well," DeWitte said.
In total, Alvarez received $190,200 from the tollway in 2022 plus health insurance through Dec. 31. His annual salary was $223,000.
In a resignation letter, Alvarez noted he was "given the option to have my separation treated as a resignation."
"I acknowledge, understand and agree that I will be entitled to the payment and tollway-paid insurance only if I properly and timely execute and deliver this resignation letter to the tollway."
After a turbulent interlude under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in which one executive director resigned and controversy over patronage erupted, Pritzker brought in a team of reformers.
His picks of former Peoples Gas chief Evans as chairman and former Chicago Housing Authority executive Alvarez as CEO were heralded as a dream team.
"It is a new day for the Illinois Tollway," Pritzker said in a statement. "I'm proud to usher in a new wave of transparency and accountability at this critical agency."
But questions of cronyism arose soon after Alvarez hired a number of former CHA colleagues. And Evans in late 2021 orchestrated an administrative reorganization that undermined Alvarez's authority and drew state Senate scrutiny.
"I think the seeds of disorganization may have been sowed by appointing people with no professional background in transportation," DeWitte said. "The continued interference by the governor's office within the tollway executive structure continues to create confusion and disorganization in the management of that organization."
Dorothy Abreu is the new chairwoman, and Cassaundra Rouse, who had been chief operating officer, is the new CEO.
You should know
Metra UP North early birds and night owls might experience delays starting this week as the railroad replaces 68,000 rail ties between Chicago and Kenosha.
Work will start at 7 p.m. and end at 5 a.m. seven days a week.
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One more thing
OK, so National Trucker Appreciation Week ended Saturday ... but it's never too late to thank a trucker, especially the one who blew his air horn for my arm-pumping kid in Wisconsin. For info, go to trucking.org/national-truck-driver-appreciation-week.