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updated: 8/28/2013 2:29 PM

Cook County commissioners want 3 Metra board members to resign

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  • Don Orseno was named interim chief operating officer of Metra Tuesday.

    Don Orseno was named interim chief operating officer of Metra Tuesday.
    courtesy of Metra


Suburban Cook County commissioners want the three remaining Metra board members who represent the county's suburbs to resign, saying the scandal-ridden board has lost the public's trust and needs a clean start.

The three suburban Cook County Metra directors -- former Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder, South Holland Mayor Don DeGraff and attorney William Widmer of Evanston -- share responsibility for "a number of serious problems" surrounding the decision to give former Metra CEO Alex Clifford up to $718,000 in severance, said Cook County Commissioners Elizabeth "Liz" Doody Gorman of Orland Park, Gregg Goslin of Glenview, Timothy O. Schneider of Bartlett and Peter N. Silvestri of Elmwood Park.

Mulder, a Metra board member since 2005, acknowledged "some decisions were not the best" but said she has no intention of resigning. She said she made the best decisions she could based on the information she had at the time.

"My term is up next year, and I'd like to be able to right the ship before leaving ... out of respect for Metra and Metra riders," she said.

The county commissioners cited a recent RTA audit that criticized the Metra board for paying Clifford to exit in June and for failing to recognize that Metra's liability insurance would have handled most of the costs if Clifford had sued under whistle-blower laws.

Clifford had accused former Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins of misconduct and involvement with political patronage over jobs linked to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and others.

Huggins and O'Halloran -- who was appointed by Gorman -- have denied any wrongdoing, though both have left the Metra board, along with three other Metra directors. Only six of the 11 board members remain.

"The public's confidence in Metra and its directorship has been severely eroded," Schneider said. "We want to re-establish confidence in Metra."

The resolution will be taken up at the next Cook County Board meeting Sept. 11.

Despite demanding resignations, the county commissioners want the Metra directors to continue to serve until replacements can be named.

Metra is waiting on county board chairmen, including those in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, to name appointees to already-vacant seats resulting from resignations over the scandal.

In Cook County, the soonest a candidate could be approved by the county board is Oct. 1, a spokeswoman for board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

The DuPage County Board is expected to vote on a candidate during its Sept. 10 board meeting, although the spokeswoman for board chairman Dan Cronin insists he hasn't made a final decision yet on who that person will be. Cronin's goal is to have that person seated by the September Metra board meeting.

With just six directors, the Metra board lacks a quorum to name a permanent chairman or CEO.

On Tuesday, the Metra board voted to make Donald Orseno, who has been with Metra for 29 years, its interim CEO.

"We need a railroad person, and Don's a railroad man," said Metra Director Jack Schaffer of Cary. "We laid all the resumes side by side, and his rose above them all. He's been very successful, and we expect that to continue."

Though Clifford last week broached the idea of returning to his job and renegotiating the severance, that appears unlikely.

"If I were a betting man, I'd bet against it," said Schaffer, who backs the idea of bringing Clifford back to Metra. "It's not a smart career move for him ... and it'd be hard to put humpty dumpty back together."

Orseno said Tuesday he'll focus on nurturing team spirit and efficiency.

"If we do the right things, for the right reasons, things will automatically take care of themselves. They always do," he said.

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