Monday, August 05, 2013

Quinn wants state to have larger role in oversight of Metra, RTA

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he wants to present lawmakers with a plan to address oversight at Metra and the Regional Transit Authority by the legislature's fall veto session, scheduled in October.

“I think it really needs fundamental overhaul,” Quinn told reporters in Chicago today. Four Metra board members have stepped down, including former board chair Brad O’Halloran, after allegations surfaced that lawmakers were pressuring board members about personnel and contract decisions. Former Metra CEO Max Clifford says that legislators, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, made suggestions to the board about hiring and employee compensation. Board members have also been called on to explain a severance package given to Clifford that could be worth more than $700,000. Clifford signed a confidentiality agreement as part of his severance settlement. The Regional Transit Authority, which oversees the Metra commuter rail service, is conducting an audit of the severance agreement.

Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer has launched an investigation. O’Halloran has denied any wrongdoing and said he stepped aside because media attention has made it impossible for him to continue in his leadership role. Madigan also said he did nothing wrong. “I have reviewed the facts surrounding the issue, and I am confident that my actions were not inappropriate or violative of any applicable law or ethical rule,” he wrote in a letter to Homer in July. 

Quinn said today that he wants to bring together a group of transportation experts, whom he described as “not political,” to make reform suggestions for Metra and the RTA. The governor talked today about “restructuring” the two entities. “Clearly, the current system doesn’t work, and we need to find a system that does work.” He said he wants to have a proposal ready for lawmakers to consider by the time they are scheduled to return to the Statehouse on Oct. 22 for the veto session.

Quinn noted several times that he does not have the authority to appoint or dismiss Metra board members. The 11 board members are appointed by the county boards of counties that fall in the Metra service area. “I do not have the appointment power of Metra or RTA — there’s not one person I appointed at RTA or Metra — and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully.” Metra and RTA did not respond to requests for comment on the governor’s statements today.

Quinn said that because the state provides funds to both entities, he thinks it should have a role in oversight. “I think we need to have a little bit more direct action on behalf of the public,” he said. “Right now, the role of our department [of transportation] and our state is basically to just hand the money over to RTA and Metra. I think we need far more oversight under law of these entities.”

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