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CTA’s ‘buck’ stops with Emanuel, Claypool says

CTA President Forrest Claypool with mayor March | Sun-Times Medifiles

CTA President Forrest Claypool with the mayor, in March | Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: September 17, 2013 7:51AM

Any transit agency shakeup should leave out the Chicago Transit Authority, because unlike scandal-scarred Metra, the CTA is “accountable to the voters,” who know “the buck stops” with the mayor, CTA President Forrest Claypool said Wednesday.

Amid increasing calls to reconfigure some or all of the region’s four transit agencies, Claypool insisted the CTA has something the other three transit agencies don’t: accountability.

“If changes are being looked at, don’t try to lump us in with Metra and the RTA and everybody else because we have an accountability structure directly to the voters,’’ Claypool told reporters after Wednesday’s monthly CTA meeting.

If “we screw things up here …. voters can go to the polls and they can throw him [Mayor Emanuel] out. Everyone knows where the buck stops at the CTA. It’s called the mayor — Mayor Emanuel,’’ Claypool said.

At other transit agencies, Claypool said, “committees of politicians” appoint board members, leaving no accountability to voters. Claypool called the process “Byzantine.’’

“If everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge,’’ Claypool said. “By contrast, CTA has that accountability.’’

Chicago’s mayor appoints four of the CTA’s seven board members, as well selecting its president. The governor appoints three CTA board members.

The most recent CTA gubernatorial appointee, Frank Zuccarelli, resigned Tuesday amid complaints that his $25,000 annual CTA board member salary allowed him to slip through a loophole and feed from two public troughs simultaneously. Zuccarelli gets $186,418 a year with benefits from Thornton Township, where he serves as a supervisor and Democratic committeeman.

Board members across the region’s four transit agencies have come under increasing scrutiny following a June 21 decision by Metra board members to give Metra CEO Alex Clifford a 26-month severance deal worth up to $718,000 in exchange for his resignation. At the time, Clifford had only eight months to go on his contract.

Quinn has since promised to create a commission to rethink the Regional Transportation Authority and the three transit agencies it oversees — the CTA, Metra and Pace.

“I’m confident Gov. Quinn’s commission will be a good one and they will look at this carefully and make some good recommendations,’’ Claypool said.

A bill introduced Wednesday by state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) would close the loophole that allowed Zuccarelli to join the CTA board. Currently, employees of federal, state, county and municipal governments are ineligible for appointment to a state transit board. House Bill 3659 makes employees or appointed officials of townships or other local governments ineligible for board appointment.

Also Wednesday, Claypool conceded that the CTA budget for the first half of the year is running $10 million short of projections, but insisted that neither fare hikes nor service cuts will be used to fill the gap.

He described the deficit as representing a mere 7/10ths of one percent of the budget, and said the agency has “multiple options” to balance its books by the end of the year. That includes reducing administrative expenses; pulling money from the damages reserve fund, which has a surplus; and potential bond refinancing.

Claypool blamed much of the deficit on a “surprise decision” by the Legislature to cut the CTA’s reduced-fare subsidy, triggering $7 million less than expected in funding.

In addition, Claypool said, revenues from some CTA fare passes have been less than anticipated as more riders choose to “pay as you go.”


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