Task force report says Madigan controlled some Metra hires
BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter March 31, 2014 12:48PM
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan
Updated: May 2, 2014 6:16AM
A new report by Gov. Pat Quinn’s transit task force came out swinging Monday at House Speaker Michael Madigan, accusing him of “in effect” deciding for years if some job candidates were hired at Metra.
The report — whose ethics recommendations were overseen by former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald — revealed that Metra kept three boxes of three-by-five-inch cards holding the names of more than 800 people referred for jobs, promotions or raises by “various political officials or persons influential with political parties.’’
Those boxes dated roughly from 1983 to 1991, but some job decisions involving Madigan went as far back as 1976, according to the report.
The records “reflected patronage hiring at Metra,’’ said the report, which outlined a series of reforms to address influence-peddling and enhance regional transit planning.
Madigan was among a host of individuals — including Metra and CTA board members as well as Cook County and legislative officials — who made job-related recommendations to Metra, the final report of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force said.
But when it came to Madigan’s recommendations, the report noted, “in some cases, he did not recommend people to be hired — he in effect decided they were hired.’’
The 94-page report’s 107th footnote said Madigan or “a private attorney who appears to have recommended individuals on behalf of the Speaker of the House” recommended 26 people to Metra. That included one so-called “high priority” candidate recommended by Madigan and apparently hired “before the first interview,’’ according to the report.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown called the report “amateurish” for not specifying names and dates.
“That goes to the amateur nature of the report. They throw these items out and I guess hope to achieve some change in public policy. It will be a challenge,’’ Brown said.
“It’s hard to ask [Madigan] any questions,” Brown said, based on “25- to 30-year- old index cards.”
However, Brown speculated that the unnamed private attorney was Sam Vincent, Metra’s lobbyist at the time. He said Madigan held no more influence with Vincent than any other lawmaker.
Quinn formed the 15-member task force last August after outcry over a huge severance package Metra Board members gave their ex-CEO as well as influence-peddling allegations at Metra — some involving Madigan.
Quinn gave the task force the broader mission of cleaning up the ethics of Metra, CTA, Pace and their financial overseer — the Regional Transportation Authority — and reorganizing the area’s transit agencies to provide “world-class” transit.
Toward that end, the task force on Monday recommended a New York-style solution, in which the 47 members of all four transit agencies would be replaced by one superboard — possibly of 15 people — overseeing a supertransit agency that would plan regionally. Metra, the CTA and Pace could become operating units under the larger agency.
The superboard would be appointed by the governor, the mayor of Chicago, the Cook County board president, and collar county chief executives. Those officials would make their selections from a slate of candidates proposed by an “independent group” — a group Fitzgerald said could be picked by those authorities. Candidates would be vetted by the inspector general.
The CTA and the mayor’s office have already dumped on the superagency model as lacking accountability, and RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. has described the idea as virtually dead on arrival.
One task force co-chair, George Ranney of Metropolis Strategies, said “several” lawmakers have expressed interest in working on a bill tied to the report but declined to name them.
“Nothing’s DOA,’’ Ranney said. “There’s going to be political support; it won’t happen overnight.’’
Fitzgerald noted Monday that ethics “is what brought us to the doctor’s office. Once we got to the doctor’s office, the doctor said you should have been here a long time ago.”
The ethics reforms proposed in the report also took at slap at the RTA for hiring Madigan’s son-in-law, Jordan Matyas, as deputy executive director for $130,000 a year in February 2011 — at a time when rumors were surfacing that Madigan was “seeking to abolish the RTA.”
The public can’t help but question whether “the RTA thought it would advance its cause in the state legislature by hiring the Speaker’s son-in-law to lobby the state legislature at what was reported to be a sensitive time,’’ the report said. “That perception damages the agency’s credibility as a solution to the problem of patronage.’’
The RTA’s Gates Jr. had recommended at one point that the RTA’s powers merely be beefed up rather creating an entire new super-agency.
However, the task force concluded that “we cannot credibly vouch to the public that the answer to decades of patronage” would be to put all transit agencies under the RTA after it “chose to select the Speaker’s son-in-law as chief lobbyist [Matyas] under the circumstances described.’’
The report also ripped into the RTA for keeping the Rev. Tyrone Crider on its board for six months after a judge entered a summary judgment against him for failing to comply with the conditions of a state grant he had received.
Ethics recommendations of the task force include a process allowing for “a more swift removal of board members,” as well as a “firewall” prohibiting communications between elected officials — or their representatives — and transit agencies on job-related matters.
Neither the RTA nor Matyas responded to emailed requests for comment.
The report offered some details on one particular candidate, recommended as a “high priority” by Madigan, who seemed to get special treatment. After learning the candidate had a disconnected phone number, Metra sent a letter to his address, asking him to contact Metra. A note in his file said he would be positioned at a Metra facility “as soon as he calls and we can get him in for interview, physical, etc.,’’ the report said.
Concluded the report: “It appears as if the hiring decision was made before the first interview.’’
Other recommendations from Madigan were “more perfunctory,’’ the report said, including one with a cover letter saying attached is a “list of individuals for the five summer jobs from [the Speaker] for the Blue Island yard.”
The ethics section of the report also notes that another “scandal” at Metra involved former Metra Board member Donald Udstuen, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes from 1985 to 2002 related to his role at Metra.
Files examined by the task force indicate that in one case, a person recommended for a job by Udstuen was hired by Metra “even though he acted inappropriately during his interview, including wearing a hat on which the words ‘F--- You’ were written.”
Such is the “corrosive effect of patronage,’’ the report said.
A new board structure, the report said, would “restore the public’s confidence to the greatest extent possible. The public is justifiably upset by the misconduct and mismanagement of some past RTA and service board members and executives.”