Illinois County Hires Former State DOT Secretary to Push Freight Plan

Former Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider was unanimously hired by the Will County board June 16 to implement the Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan that she helped create after amending her proposed contract.

A debate also was sparked on whether to allow citizens in Eastern Will County another chance to comment on the mobility plan, since an open house slated in Crete was cancelled.

Schneider, who now has her own consulting firm, also previously served as chair of the National Freight Advisory Council and was assistant state comptroller.

For the county, she will prioritize infrastructure projects needed to keep freight moving efficiently through the county and develop financing strategies for those improvements, including state and federal grants and public-private partnerships.

Officials decided to hire her as a part-time consultant for $7,500 per month instead of hiring a full-time employee.

As approved, the contract for her transportation consulting services terminates on June 30, 2018, gives either party the right to end the contract with 30 days’ notice, and stipulates that Schneider will report to the county board, according to board member Chuck Maher.

Maher previously was concerned that Schneider's proposed contract was capped at 40 hours per month for the $7,500, and $200 per hour for subsequent hours, noting that amount of time could be "eaten up quickly."

The hours have since been increased to 50 per month, according to a June 9 memo from the County Executive's office.

In preparing the study, which could be accepted by the county board at its July meeting, three public open houses were held in mid-May to solicit public input, in Wilmington, Plainfield and New Lenox.

According to board member Laurie Summers, one was scheduled to be held at Balmoral School in Crete, but was cancelled by the school district, unbeknownst to her or her fellow board member in District 1, Judy Ogalla.

If they had been aware that it was cancelled, they would have found another location, she said.

According to School District 201U spokeswoman Natalie Nash, "We are not aware of any plans last month to host an open house at Balmoral Elementary."

The open house was moved to New Lenox, and according to Summers, was attended by six residents of her district.

Citing constituents' concerns about a new intermodal facility, the proposed South Suburban Airport and the shelved Illiana toll road, Summers said she requested a fourth forum in Eastern Will County.

Ogalla was absent from a June 15 board meeting, but during a committee meeting last week she said it was an "oversight" on Schneider's part not to have an open house in her district.

"This plan is not as community friendly as it should be," she said then.

Board speaker Jim Moustis said the county's goal is to complete the study by the end of June because they want to be prepared for grant applications.

"I did not want to delay it to have another forum," he said, adding that there will be a public hearing prior to the board voting on the study.

Every county board district could argue that it was not convenient and there would be 13 different forums, Moustis said.

"I understand you are advocating for your district, but there were 10 districts did not have their own forum," he told Summers. "Your district is not unique."

"It is a living document. This is not the last time we will talk about it," he said.

Cory Singer said he represented District 1 for 10 years, when the airport issue "was front and center."

"This idea that Eastern Will County is not take care of is blatantly false," he said, adding that over the years, it has received more transportation funding and staff time than other area of the county, as they dealt with the airport and toll road — projects created by the state.

Board member Jackie Traynere, (D-Bolingbrook), said the county's job is to take care of unincorporated areas, and since Eastern Will County is primarily rural and unincorporated, it will have more attention.

County Executive Larry Walsh said they may be able to arrange an opportunity to speak "later this summer."

"Listening to people is always a benefit whether it is before or after document is done," he said.