String of resignations hasn’t derailed Metra — yet
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter email@example.com August 2, 2013 7:06PM
Former Metra Board Chairman Brad O'Halloran | Sun-Times Library
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Updated: September 5, 2013 6:52AM
Down four board members and a CEO, Metra is still functioning — though barely.
But that’s assuming no more resignation letters are being inked among the seven remaining members of the board running the suburban rail agency swept up in a patronage scandal. That’s exactly what some elected officials want.
“I’m demanding that all seven resign en masse immediately,” said state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo). “If they don’t, the governor just should remove them.”
The board needs six of its 11 members for a quorum, Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said. That’s just to get Metra’s day-to-day business done. For more significant matters — such as replacing former Metra chairman Brad O’Halloran after he quit Thursday — a supermajority of eight members is needed.
“That is off the table for the time being,” Reile said after Larry Huggins became the fourth board member to resign Friday and left just seven seats occupied.
Huggins’ and O’Halloran’s resignations followed those of Kane County’s Mike McCoy and DuPage County’s Paul Darley.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, responsible for replacing Darley, said he’s in no hurry to pick a replacement. He’d rather Metra get to the bottom of the patronage allegations first. Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman, who helped appoint O’Halloran, is in no rush either.
“I’m not going to just appoint somebody to appoint somebody,” Gorman said.
Stephen Schlickman thinks they should move faster. He’s a former executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority and is now executive director at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center. He said rebuilding Metra’s board is urgent so a new chairman is picked.
“It’s urgent to find a chairman who will lead the effort to find a CEO,” Schlickman said.
And it’s the CEO’s job to put priorities in order for a rail system once, but no longer, considered preeminent in the nation, he said.
That is especially the case as Metra’s latest scandal continues to unfold. It began with a generous $718,000 severance package for the outgoing CEO and quickly grew to include allegations about patronage, contracts and political pressure .
It led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to force Huggins’ resignation Friday. O’Halloran stepped down Thursday in the wake of further revelations about $22,000 he received in his retirement accounts from Orland Park.
O’Halloran was a trustee there — but resigned from that position Thursday as well — and state law barred him from being compensated for that job while he was on the Metra board.
That came after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford testified at a marathon hearing last month and said House Speaker Michael Madigan pressured him to give a raise and a promotion to certain employees. Clifford contends that O’Halloran and Huggins pushed him to go along with Madigan, with O’Halloran voicing concerns the agency’s funding would be affected — charges O’Halloran and Huggins have denied.
This and past scandals at Metra have led Franks to call the rail system a “repository of patronage.”
He said Metra board members should be elected, and he’s calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to remove every remaining one if they haven’t resigned by Monday.
He said Quinn should replace them with an emergency manager.
“I want the whole system blown up,” Franks said.
It’s not quite that simple, said Brooke Anderson, the governor’s press secretary. Quinn can only remove board members based on reports from the state inspector general and after a public hearing has been held.