Meeting for the first time since ousting its CEO in June and touching off a controversy that savaged its leadership, Metra’s diminished board sought today to convince customers it was fully engaged in running the nation’s second-largest commuter rail network.
Six board members – the minimum needed for a quorum -- assembled for a session more notable perhaps for what wasn’t said, namely any direct discussion of the toxic fallout that has occurred since Alex Clifford resigned with a much criticized severance package.
There was scant discussion of the issues that caused five of its 11 members to resign over the past four weeks. Instead, officials tried to address items of concern to riders, including rolling back the price of 10-ride tickets, integrating the CTA’s Ventra card onto trains, and providing free Wi-Fi to passengers.
Only after the meeting was over was there any talk of the scandal that erupted as a result of Clifford’s $718,000 severance package and his explosive April 3 memo in which he alleged that political interference brought about his downfall.
Asked whether the 15-member panel named Thursday by Gov. Pat Quinn to review oversight of the transit agencies was necessary, acting Metra chairman Jack Partelow responded with a blunt, “No, not really.”
“There are a couple of investigations (already) going on right now,” Partelow said. “But he’s the governor and he has the prerogative to do what he feels is necessary. I don’t have all the information that the governor has.”
The headline-grabbing name on the task force Quinn named Thursday is that of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, and Quinn charged the panel with recommending ways to prevent fraud and abuse at Metra in light of the recent allegations of political patronage infecting the agency.
Quinn’s task force is the latest of several bodies looking into the problems at Metra. Two state inspectors general have opened investigations and the Regional Transportation Authority has also launch an inquiry.
In response to a reporter’s question, Partelow said he would seek to get a written report from an investigation Metra commissioned from a former central Illinois U.S. attorney, Rodger Heaton.
Metra paid Heaton $52,000 for the inquiry, but officials say they only received an oral report, which found no wrongdoing.
With so few members on hand, the board will be incapable of naming a permanent chairman; neither are officials expected to tackle a potentially divisive issue such as reversing the unpopular 10-ride ticket price hike.
The board will also be a target of new scrutiny as Gov. Pat Quinn named a 15-member commission Thursday to review oversight at the Regional Transportation Authority and recommend ways to prevent fraud and abuse after the recent accusations of political patronage at Metra. The panel includes former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Quinn argues that the RTA has failed to prevent scandal after scandal at the transit agencies it oversees, including Metra.
On Thursday, board member Stanley Rakestraw resigned after the Tribune reported that he lives in Chicago, instead of in suburban Cook County, as required by state law. Rakestraw was the fifty board member to step down in four weeks.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who appointed Rakestraw, said she had been told he lived in Flossmoor.
An investigation by the Tribune showed that Rakestraw had moved from the south suburb two years ago after his upscale home there was destroyed in a fire.
In his five-paragraph letter of resignation, released by Preckwinkle's office, Rakestraw said that despite the fire, it was his intention to rebuild and return to Flossmoor. But declining property values made rebuilding “economically unrealistic.”
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