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Another Metra board member quits; RTA chairman begs for new appointments

Stanley C. Rakestraw

Stanley C. Rakestraw

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Updated: September 17, 2013 8:19AM

Yet another Metra Board member resigned under fire Thursday, prompting the chairman of the RTA to beg appointing power brokers to fill the five vacant seats on the Metra board “swiftly.’’

Metra Board member Stanley Rakestraw tendered his resignation Thursday to the woman who appointed him, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, saying he did not want “any potential controversy’’ over his residency to distract Metra from its business.

Meanwhile, the chair of the Kane County Board revealed that one of 15 Kane County candidates for the empty Metra seat he needs to fill withdrew his name Thursday, after his family urged him to avoid the current “hyper public attention” on Metra and its board members.

Preckwinkle had asked for Rakestraw’s resignation after learning that he had moved from Flossmoor to Chicago after she appointed him to a suburban Metra seat.

In his resignation letter Thursday, Rakestraw wrote that Metra counsel had “repeatedly reassured” him that his residency “was not an issue’’ because of his “personal situation.’’

Rakestraw moved to Chicago after a fire destroyed his Flossmoor home. He wrote to Preckwinkle on Thursday that he had intended to rebuild the house but “because of declining property values, rebuilding my home became economically unrealistic.’’

Rakestraw was the fifth Metra Board member to resign following the June 21 resignation of Metra CEO Alex Clifford. The Metra Board’s decision to give Clifford a 26-month, up to $718,000 separation deal opened a hornet’s nest of controversy that has dragged other transit boards under the microscope.

John Gates Jr., chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority, noted Thursday that Rakestraw’s departure leaves the Metra Board with only six members — the bare minimum needed for a quorum. The Metra board meets for its regular monthly meeting Friday.

“If just one more member resigns, becomes ill or otherwise cannot attend a meeting, all business before the [Metra] Board will be stopped,’’ Gates said.

It appeared from the RTA law that Rakestraw’s departure means the six remaining Metra board members must act in lockstep and vote unanimously if any Metra contracts are to be approved. However, a Metra spokesman was doublechecking this interpretation with Metra lawyers Thursday.

It seems quite clear that the Metra board does not have the eight votes needed to pick a chairman or to select a CEO. The board is supposed to have 11 members.

“The RTA feels it is imperative that the appointing authorities make filling these vacant posts among their highest priorities,’’ Gates wrote Thursday in a news release.

Also Thursday, Kane County Board chairman Chris Lauzen revealed that one of 15 Kane County Metra Board candidates called him Thursday to withdraw his name from consideration. Lauzen must appoint a Kane County resident to fill both Mike McCoy’s Metra seat and Nabi Fakroddin’s RTA seat.

Though the Kane County Metra candidate, an elderly former railroad consultant, was “pure as snow,’’ his family “convinced him, ‘Why should you have yourself and your family torn apart in this process,’ ’’ Lauzen said.

Given the string of transit board resignations, Lauzen said, “I’m a little more uncertain I have a bead on what we are looking for because it’s so much more complicated now. A person has to have a hide of thick leather, so it’s going to be much harder psychologically, emotionally.”

“It used to be we were looking for a real solid engineering, transportation dude. Now, holy smokes. It’s a lot more confusing.’’

In addition to the Kane County Metra seat, Gates asked the following appointing authorities to “swiftly” fill the four other vacant Metra board seats:

◆ the chairman of the DuPage County Board of Directors, who fills the Du Page County seat vacated by Paul Darley.

◆ Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who fills the Chicago seat vacated by Larry Huggins.

◆ Preckwinkle, who fills the Cook County suburban seat vacated by Rakestraw.

◆ Cook County Board Commissioners representing Proviso, Riverside, Berwyn, Cicero, Lyons, Stickney, Lemont, Palos or Orland Townships, who fill the Cook County suburban seat vacated by former Metra Board chairman Brad O’Halloran.

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