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updated: 8/16/2013 1:54 PM

Cronin warns political maneuvering could strip suburbs of voice at Metra

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  • Dan Cronin

      Dan Cronin

  • Jack Partelow

      Jack Partelow

 
 

As Metra tries to function amid scandal, it's essential the suburbs maintain their influence on the board, DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin warned Friday.

With state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn pushing to reinvent the troubled agency, there's a danger whatever emerges will shift the balance of power to Chicago, Cronin said.

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"I'm here representing the nearly 1 million people in DuPage County," Cronin said. "I want to make sure their voice is heard. We have to be mindful of transit needs in the suburbs."

He also pledged to work to appoint a new DuPage representative on Metra's board by September. After a spate of recent resignations in the wake of the scandal, the board is down from 11 members to six, a minimal quorum.

Friday marked the first time the board of directors has met since its game-changing session in June when they approved a separation agreement with former CEO Alex Clifford that's been called a golden parachute at best and "hush money" at worst.

The agency's been spiraling since Clifford exited after dropping a bombshell memo with allegations of misconduct aimed at former Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins.

Clifford said the two condoned political pressure over hiring and raises from powerful leaders such as Speaker Mike Madigan, and conflicts of interest over contracts were also raised. Both O'Halloran and Huggins have denied any wrongdoing and said Clifford's job performance was underwhelming.

At this point, the board barely makes quorum.

"Thank God," Acting Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville said after the board secretary announced a quorum Friday.

Should any other directors quit, the railroad will be in trouble with insufficient numbers to approve purchases, contracts and move forward on state mandates such as a universal fare care.

Eight members are required to pick a chairman and name a permanent CEO.

Currently, two administrators are sharing Clifford's job: Deputy Executive Director of Operations Don Orseno, a veteran railroader, and Deputy Executive Director for Administration Alex Wiggins.

Clifford's up to $718,000 separation agreement sparked a legislative hearing and calls for the board's resignation. Meanwhile, two state inspectors general are investigating the ethics claims.

Other fallout included the departures of Kane County appointee Mike McCoy and DuPage's Paul Darley. McCoy, a civil engineer and former county chairman, and business owner Darley were considered independent voices on the board.

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