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posted: 8/18/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: The steady vanishing of Metra's board

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  • Patrick Kunzer/pkunzer@dailyherald.comA Metra commuter train arrives at the Elgin Chicago Street Station in July 2012.

    Patrick Kunzer/pkunzer@dailyherald.comA Metra commuter train arrives at the Elgin Chicago Street Station in July 2012.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Who in their right mind, a colleague wondered the other day, would want to serve on the Metra commuter rail board?

The question was asked only partially in jest. There would be several reasons, after all, to steer clear of Metra, given all of the controversy clouding it, problems facing it and political uncertainty surrounding it.

But let us point out, again only partially in jest, that someone needs to serve. In fact, several people do.

No doubt there are plenty of people out there who are both willing and able. And, might we add, highly ethical and tough willed, beholden to no one.

The Metra board at last count is down to six members, almost half of the original 11. That's two short of the eight votes necessary to elect a chair, and the bare minimum needed to conduct business.

The board met on Friday, and Acting Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville was so relieved that everybody showed up that he exclaimed, "Thank God," after the board secretary announced a quorum.

The attrition has been flowing as though from an open faucet since controversy erupted earlier this summer over the ouster of former CEO Alex Clifford under odd circumstances and the windfall of up to $718,000 he could receive to go away.

Some have left after being tainted by the controversy. Some have left for other reasons. Some, perhaps, just had enough.

But what's just as odd has been the reaction so far of those responsible for appointing replacements. In short, they haven't been appointing any.

Some Metra critics have called for a full-scale turnover of the entire board. As we have said previously, that's short sighted. We've yet to see any evidence that the entire board operated with ill intent. And, as importantly, the work of the Metra commuter rail service must still be conducted. (Yes, forgive us, the pun was intended.)

It's time that those responsible for filling the vacancies fill them. That includes, among others, DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, who has promised to do so by next month; Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen, who has finally requested applications; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who hasn't yet showed her hand.

We agree with Cronin's comments Friday when he said it is essential that the suburbs maintain their influence on the board.

It seems clear that some reinvention of Metra is likely -- and in our view, necessary -- in the wake of the agency's repeated financial scandals and the politics that appear to surround it.

But let everyone remember, the vast majority of track lies in the suburbs and the vast majority of revenue originates here too.

Beyond that, if the idea is to get politics out of the agency, who in their right minds would think the way to do that is to give either Chicago or the state of Illinois more control?

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