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Fitzgerald’s call to strip transit board members’ pay gets bumpy ride

Former U.S.  Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Taskforce member speaks leaders CTA RTA MetrPace transit systems September.

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Taskforce member, speaks to leaders of the CTA, RTA, Metra, and Pace transit systems in September. File Photo. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 2, 2014 6:13AM



Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Friday said an ethics group he heads is tentatively recommending that no transit board member be paid — an idea immediately jumped on by other members of the broader Northeastern Illinois Transit Task Force.

Fitzgerald noted that transit board members in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia are not paid, so “what’s unique to this city that we need to pay folks?”

However, task force member Carole Brown, who is not on Fitzgerald’s ethics working group, said that when she was chair of the Chicago Transit Authority, she spent “whole weeks “ at the CTA, and “I was grateful my boss was in New York and had no idea.”

At the CTA ­­— the most lucrative of the three transit service boards to sit on — board members are entitled to $20,000 a year plus expenses, and their chairman can draw a stipend of $50,000 a year plus expenses.

“I know it’s not popular to pay them but these people do contribute a great deal of their time,’’ Brown said.

Task Force member Nick Palmer, also not in the ethics working group, said paying transit board members is a “tricky situation” because to not do so could limit the role to only people who can afford to take time off from their “day job.”

Even the co-chair of the broader task force, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, had questions. She wanted to know how much work members of unpaid boards did compared to the paid members of Chicago area transit boards.

Fitzgerald said his group was still seeking input from the broader panel and the public on their recommendations.

No process for gathering public input was immediately outlined, but the top of task force website has a link to a page where the public can provide comment at http://www.dot.il.gov/nepublictransit.html

Other ideas the ethics working group has suggested include continuing to allow elected officials to appoint transit board members, but having an outside panel — composed of “independent non-political entities” such as “news media and good government groups,’’ — vet the nominees before final approval, according to a Powerpoint presented by Fitzgerald.

Or, elected officials could act independently to appoint individuals based on specific qualifications and requirements.

Changes to the existing removal process for board members could include allowing members to serve “at the pleasure of the appointing authority;’’ to be removed by the governor following a vote by a super majority of a transit board; to be removed for cause by the appointing authority; to be removed by the appointing authority for inefficiency, neglect or breach of duty after a hearing; or a combination of such options.

One member of the public offered input immediately. Jemal Powell of University Park said appointing authorities “got us into this mess in the first place.” The board of the Regional Transportation Authority should be elected and those elected members should appoint members to the boards of the CTA, Metra and Pace — agencies whose finances the RTA oversees, Powell said.

Gov. Pat Quinn appointed the transit task force in the wake of public and legislative outcry over the way the Metra board and its chairman handled the $871,000 buyout of former Metra CEO Alex Clifford. Final task force recommendations on how to finance and ethically govern a “world class” transit system are due by March 31.

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