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Metra board expected to interview CEO candidates

A head-hunting firm has narrowed field four candidates including interim MetrCEO DOrseno (pictured); former top Chicago Transit Authority executive; an

A head-hunting firm has narrowed the field to four candidates, including interim Metra CEO Don Orseno (pictured); a former top Chicago Transit Authority executive; and an out-of-towner. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 3, 2014 4:23PM

Metra Board members Friday are expected to interview candidates to permanently replace CEO Alex Clifford, whose hefty June severance package kicked up a flurry of investigations.

A head-hunting firm has narrowed the field to four candidates, including interim Metra CEO Don Orseno; a former top Chicago Transit Authority executive; and an out-of-towner, one Metra board member said.

Eight of 11 votes are required to pick a CEO, and the board’s agenda leaves open the possibility that it will not only interview candidates but actually vote on one.

The Metra board has only had a full complement of 11 members since October. Six members resigned in the tumult following Clifford’s June 21 buyout — valued at $871,000 — but have since been replaced. Two new members are former CTA executives.

“We’ve been doing the search. I think we need to get it done,’’ Metra Board member Jack Schaffer said Wednesday. “The vacancy has been open since June.’’

Any CEO’s selection comes as Metra faces some of the toughest scrutiny in its history.

Two state inspectors general are investigating allegations raised by Clifford, who charged he was forced out by two former board members because he would not “play ball’’ on patronage jobs and contracts. Both the RTA and an Illinois House transit committee want to look at Metra’s response to the Jan. 6-7 bitter cold snap. And a new transit task force formed by Gov. Pat Quinn is considering whether to replace, reduce or otherwise shakeup Metra, the CTA, Pace and the RTA, which oversees the finances of all three transit agencies.

Orseno, a veteran “railroad man” and the agency’s former chief operating officer, has been serving as interim CEO since Aug. 27, guiding Metra through a brutal two-day storm that triggered scores of canceled trains. At the last board meeting, several board members rallied round Orseno, his staff and their response to the extraordinary storm.

“It’s easy for Metra to be the punching bag,” said new board member Marty Oberman, a former Chicago alderman. “The bottom line is that under these horrible conditions, hundreds of Metra employees showed up, worked hard and moved enormous numbers of our passengers safely. I think we ought to be proud.’’


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