The embattled Metra board will lose yet another member after a severance scandal that engulfed the commuter rail agency this past summer, officials said Wednesday.
Board member William Widmer will leave the agency as soon as Cook County commissioners representing the northern suburbs can pick his replacement. Widmer was among the Metra board members who negotiated an $871,000 departure package for then-CEO Alex Clifford, who leveled allegations of political back-scratching and questionable contracts at Metra shortly before his June resignation.
The controversial, no-tell severance package has prompted two ethics investigations and five board resignations. Widmer would be the sixth of 11 board members to leave in the scandal's wake. Widmer's term was up, and he asked not to be reappointed, officials said.
A reappointment was unlikely, given ongoing animosity toward the Metra board. Several county commissioners have called on Widmer and Metra's two other Cook County representatives to step down in order to restore the public's faith in the nation's second-largest commuter rail operation.
The full County Board, however, did not vote on a nonbinding resolution asking for their resignations Wednesday. Instead, it was sent to the board's Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, where the initiative is expected to wither.
State lawmakers from both parties also have demanded the entire board leave in the weeks since Clifford's allegations became public. State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Barrington, renewed their resignation calls Wednesday, saying the agency's problems cannot be fixed with the current leadership in place.
"Every member of the board connected with this disgraceful era must go so that we can start to get Metra back on track," Franks said.
The Widmer announcement comes a day after DuPage and Kane counties filled their vacancies by appointing developer John Zediker and former federal Judge Manuel Barbosa, respectively. Their appointments will bring Metra's board up to eight members, giving it the ability to make major decisions, including electing a permanent chairman, although that is considered unlikely at this point.
The Chicago City Council is expected to approve former Ald. Martin Oberman to fill the city's Metra vacancy next month, while Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle could name her pick before her board's October meeting.
Widmer, a labor attorney, joined the board in 2008, officials said. His four-year appointment ended in 2012, but he continued to serve at the commissioners' will.
In the spring, he was one of three Metra board members tapped to negotiate a severance package with Clifford after he threatened a whistle-blower lawsuit involving patronage allegations.
A Regional Transportation Authority audit later showed officials misled the public about the cost of the potential litigation and criticized the rail board for not thoroughly analyzing the departure deal.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun