CHICAGO -- The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority changing the way it does bond business and other business.
Ralph Wehner, the authority's executive director, said the authority will be sending out requests for proposals to underwriters for all bond financings.
Last Thursday, the authority's board also adopted reforms that require the disclosure in every request for proposal of any relationship between the firm and any former or present directors, employees, or agents of the authority.
Other reforms approved by the board include the creation of a committee of officials to review proposals by architectural and engineering companies, and the setting up of guidelines for using the authority's helicopter.
"The basic objective and goal is to make the authority more accountable to the patrons who use the system," Wehner said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Wehner, a 34-year veteran of the Illinois Department of Transportation, recently replaced Robert Hickman, who left the authority's executive director post in May after submitting his resignation in April.
Hickman, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Jim Edgar in 1991, had come under fire for alleged personal use of an authority helicopter and for failing to disclose that his son worked for an engineering firm that received no-bid contracts from the authority.
Sending out requests for proposals for bond deals will be a major departure for the authority, which has authorization to finance $2.4 billion of tollway projects. Nicholas Jannite, the authority's manager of finance, said no requests had been sent out before.
In recent years, the authority has turned to Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. to price some of its bonds. The firm's Chicago public finance office is managed by Gayle Franzen, a senior vice president, who formerly served as executive director of the tollway authority.
Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette has worked on three out of the four bond issues sold by the authority since 1986, according to Securities Data Co. That year, the firm was a co-manager for a $400 million bond issue, in 1992 the firm was the senior manager for a $459 million issue, and last year was the senior manager for a $387 million bond refunding.
Wehner said the request for proposals process for bond issues did not require board approval, but was instituted as an administrative action.
Meanwhile, the authority's board may be reviewing its contract with Public Sector Group, its financial adviser, later this month. Public Sector Group was selected in August 1993 to help draft financing plans for $2.4 billion of highway projects in northeastern Illinois approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year.
A state law that took effect in January requiring registration of firms and their consultants seeking contracts from the state showed that Public Sector Group hired Dana M. Grigoroff as its consultant or lobbyist. A Chicago Tribune report in May pointed to links between Grigoroff and the authority when Hickman was in charge.
Wehner said he didn't see any "undue influence" in the selection of Public Sector Group, and that there is no intention of canceling the firm's contract. Jannite said that the authority's one-year contract with the firm expires this month and that no determination has been made on whether the contract will he extended.
Phillip Peloquin, executive vice president of Public Sector Group, did not return phone calls..
Wehner said the authority is also preparing an ethics statement to present to the board. The statement would prohibit employees who leave the authority from soliciting work from the authority for two years.
Wehner said that he has been corresponding with Illinois Treasurer Patrick Quinn, who earlier this year proposed a number of reforms of the tollway system that the authority rejected. The reforms included competitively bidding all bond issues, exhaustihg surplus investment revenues before issuing any new bonds, prohibiting toll increases to pay for new tollroad construction, and setting a timetable when existing tollroads revert to freeways.
Wehner declined to comment on the content of the correspondence. Dan Shomon, a spokesman for Quinn, said that they had to do with pension reforms and rules covering free tollway passes for certain state officials.
Quinn believes the changes in bond business announced by Wehner are "a step in the right direction," Shomon said, adding that the authority has "many steps left to go."
"Even if you have [requests for proposals], it doesn't mean Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette will not get the next bond contract after having gotten an inordinate amount of bond issues in the past," Shomon said.
Quinn has said that until the reforms are adopted, he will not sign any documents for future authority bond issues, either in his ex officio capacity or as a custodian of authority funds.
However, by the time the tollway authority does its next bond deal, Quinn, who is running for Illinois secretary of state in the November general election, will no longer be treasurer by January.
Wehner said that bond issuance is not imminent. The authority has so far gotten an environmental impact statement approved for an estimated $525 million, 12.5-mile southern extension of the NorthSouth Tollway. Three other legs of the $2.4 billion tollway project will follow.