Secret Report Digs into Problems at Illinois Tollway Oases

Article excerpt

Byline: Marni Pyke

Subleasing activities at the Illinois tollway's oases raise questions of "an appearance of impropriety," a confidential report kept from the public concludes.

The study by the state's Office of the Executive Inspector General examined subleasing practices at the tollway's seven oases. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and its former oases manager, Wilton Partners, came under federal scrutiny in 2005 over favorable rates offered to politically connected fast-food vendors.

In a March 2008 e-mail to tollway executives and board members, attorney Tom Bamonte attached copies of the inspector general report, writing that its author "does not find any actual wrongdoing but concludes that there is an appearance of impropriety."

Bamonte's e-mail, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Herald, also states the report "criticizes the public/private partnership model that was used for the redevelopment of the oases. As noted on the face of the document, the report should not be circulated."

The Daily Herald sent a FOI request for the report but was denied. Tollway officials said state law prohibited its release because investigatory files and reports of the executive inspector general's office are exempt from disclosure under FOI. The executive inspector general investigates fraud and abuse in state government.

State Sen. Susan Garrett, who is conducting Senate hearings into issues with tollway oases management, also was denied the report, which is dated August 2007.

"Nobody revealed to me this report existed," the Lake Forest Democrat said Tuesday. "This information could be very beneficial moving forward when the government looks at the pitfalls of public-private partnerships."

"If there is information out there that could be helpful to legislators and constituents but if you don't know it's there or can't access it -- when it's available only to insiders and a select group of appointed officials -- that takes the real value out of having these types of reports."

But tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis noted in an e-mail that "the law is clear and the tollway has no influence on the release of the report. …