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Article updated: 8/15/2013 6:39 PM

Metra board down to six; Quinn names advisory panel

Gov. Pat Quinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

 
With the Metra board down to six, Acting Chairman Jack Partelow says he’s worried about the commuter railroad’s ability to function.

With the Metra board down to six, Acting Chairman Jack Partelow says he's worried about the commuter railroad's ability to function.

 

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With another Metra director headed for the exit door, Metra's acting chairman admits he's worried about the railroad's ability to function with so few board members.

Four out of 11 Metra directors resigned earlier, and a fifth, Stan Rakestraw, stepped down Thursday. That leaves a bare quorum of six directors to approve purchases and hiring and act on crucial issues such as a universal fare card.

"I don't know if any more shoes can drop," said Acting Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville, adding he intends to press elected officials who appoint Metra directors to act quickly to fill the vacancies.

"I'm going to talk to the appointing authorities and see they understand that we can't have someone get in a car accident now or the railroad stops. We're (operating by) the skin of our teeth."

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday appointed a panel of 15 people, including former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, to see what's wrong with mass transit in the region.

Metra's been teetering since the June departure of CEO Alex Clifford, who left with a bang, accusing two board members of misconduct. The fallout has resulted in the greatly diminished board.

Stan Rakestraw became the latest to walk the plank after revelations he lived in Chicago, not in the Cook County suburbs as required by the RTA Act.

A fire destroyed his Flossmoor home, and lowered property values made rebuilding economically unfeasible, Rakestraw said in a letter of resignation to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

"I informed counsel for the (Metra) board of my residency and was repeatedly reassured that, given my personal situation, my residency was not an issue.

"My overriding concern is, and has always been doing the right thing for Metra. That includes eliminating any potential controversy, which distracts the board from its business."

Preckwinkle earlier noted in a statement that when Rakestraw applied for the position, he listed a Flossmoor address. "Since he no longer resides in suburban Cook County, he is ineligible to serve as my appointment on Metra. As soon as I was notified of this fact I requested Stan Rakestraw's resignation," she said.

Regional Transportation Authority Chairman John Gates urged the chairmen of Kane and DuPage counties, Cook County officials and the Chicago mayor who pick Metra board replacements to get moving.

"Though the Metra board can continue to do business with six voting members, if just one more member resigns, becomes ill or otherwise cannot attend a meeting, all business before the board will be stopped," Gates said in a statement.

Quinn's panel is supposed to study how to eliminate waste, fraud and abuses and streamline what can be redundant bureaucracies at Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority, Pace and the CTA.

"It's clear that the mass transit system is not working for taxpayers," Quinn said. "This task force is a step forward to make our transit system worthy of the public's trust. Their recommendations will be valuable as we work in both the veto and spring sessions to reform mass transit in Illinois."

The task force will make initial recommendations prior to the fall veto session and give a final report in January.

Along with Fitzgerald, members include Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, former CTA chairman Carole Brown and CEO of Metropolis Strategies George Ranney of Grayslake.

Other advisers include DePaul University political science professor Adrienne Holloway of Aurora, retired Wheeling High School teacher Don Tantillo of McHenry and tax expert Sonia Walwyn of Naperville, a Duff & Phelps executive.

Former Director Larry Huggins of Chicago and former Chairman Brad O'Halloran of Orland Park both resigned this month amid allegations of misconduct and condoning political patronage by Clifford, which they deny. Two state inspectors general are investigating.

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