Quinn to appoint panel to ‘overhaul’ Metra, RTA
BY NATASHA KORECKI Sun-Times Political Reporter Twitter @natashakorecki August 5, 2013 5:32PM
Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford claims in a meomo that Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan used influence to obtain a pay hike for a political ally. | Sun-Times File Photo.
Updated: September 7, 2013 6:19AM
Gov. Pat Quinn is preparing to appoint an independent panel of experts to come up with a “fundamental overhaul” of both scandal-ridden Metra and the RTA and have it in time for lawmakers to consider this fall.
Quinn said he would take recommendations from an inspector general’s report — which is still under way — as well as from the new panel.
The move is already getting criticism from his primary opponent, who called it “another do-nothing committee.”
Four Metra board members have resigned in the wake of a scandal tied to the $718,000 contract buyout of the rail agency’s CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford penned a memo saying he was forced out after he refused to heed to patronage requests by politicians — including the powerful state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). Since then, the negative headlines haven’t stopped.
Quinn has expressed frustration over the recurrence of scandals at Metra, a beneficiary of state funds. But when pressed on what the governor was specifically doing to address the issue, Quinn said he believed it prudent to “step aside” as the inspector general is completing its investigation but also said he wanted to hear from non-political experts on the best way to create oversight in the rail system that is now entrenched in a patronage scandal.
“You have to follow the law, that’s what I do. We have an inspector general, the standard is you step aside and let the inspector general, who is a professional, law enforcement person carry out their investigation. I think that’s proper,” Quinn said. “Having said that, I really do think the whole structure of the RTA and Metra needs fundamental restructuring and overhaul.”
Quinn said he planned to empanel experts to make recommendations on a better system and forward it to lawmakers in time for the Oct. 22 veto session.
Quinn hasn’t appointed the panel members yet but mentioned the names Ann Schneider and George Ranney as possibilities.
Last month, Bill Daley, Quinn’s likely opponent in the March 2014 primary, criticized Quinn’s lack of leadership on the issue. Daley called for scrapping all but the bonding and auditing functions of the RTA, which has an annual budget of about $33 million.
On Monday, Daley blasted Quinn’s suggestion.
“While Governor Quinn calls for another do-nothing committee to study the problem, I have been clear — fire the Metra board, eliminate the RTA and make the governor more directly accountable for the waste and insider deals at Metra and other transit agencies,” Daley said in a statement. “That’s the only way to clean up the mess and begin to give taxpayers and riders their money’s worth.”
Quinn has expressed frustration over not having the power to remove Metra board members and said he would consider a proposal that includes giving the governor appointment power. Right now, it takes an inspector general’s report and then a public hearing before the governor can remove a member.
“I do not have the appointment power of Metra or RTA …and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully,” Quinn said. “As governor, we give Metra and RTA … huge amounts of money for getting people to work on time.”