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updated: 9/10/2013 8:35 AM

Metra board rebuilding enough to pick chairman, CEO

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  • Martin Oberman

    Martin Oberman


With the Chicago mayor's pick of former alderman Martin Oberman to serve as a Metra director, the board now is expected to have the magic number -- eight -- to pick a permanent chairman and CEO.

That sets the stage for a possible choice between former Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder and South Holland Village President Don DeGraff to lead the troubled board.

Both names have surfaced because of their experience in government and their residency in suburban Cook County. Metra uses a rotating chairmanship with Cook County directors and collar county directors taking turns to ensure regional equity, meaning that the next leader must come from Cook County.

Plans were underway early in August to hold a possible vote on Mulder, but that fell through after former Metra Director Larry Huggins resigned, leaving the board without enough directors to pick a chairman.

The DuPage County Board is expected to vote today to confirm John Zediker as a Metra director, bringing the Metra board up to seven. DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin on Friday named the Naperville resident as his pick.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's choice of Oberman also needs confirmation from the city council before the Metra board has enough members to vote on new, permanent leaders.

Acting Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville is serving in the interim after the dramatic departures of former Chairman Brad O'Halloran of Orland Park and CEO Alex Clifford amid a political patronage scandal.

Oberman, a 68-year-old attorney who lives in Lincoln Park, served as an independent Chicago alderman from 1975 to 1987 under mayors Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington. He was considered a reformer and "a vigilant protector of taxpayer interests," Emanuel said in a statement. He previously served as the first chief counsel of the Illinois Racing Board.

Oberman, who works in Chicago, said he doesn't use Metra regularly but said "we've all got a stake in ensuring it runs well."

Metra derailed this spring when Clifford accused O'Halloran and another former director of misconduct and condoning political pressure over jobs from lawmakers. The scandal led to calls for the entire board to step down and a slew of resignations from directors this summer. O'Halloran has denied any improprieties.

"People should be cynical" about Metra, Oberman said, given its history. The key moving forward is "to hold people accountable ... not to fall asleep at the switch."

Oberman said he will not accept the $15,000 Metra director stipend.

Zediker, who rides Metra several times a month, said he will donate the $15,000 stipend to charity.

Zediker, 41, is the chief operating officer and a partner at the real estate consulting firm of Ruettiger, Tonelli and Associates. He is former president of Moser Enterprises, an influential Naperville development firm that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 as a result of the economic downturn.

He served as DuPage County Board commissioner from 2009 to 2012 and was director of Naperville's Transportation, Engineering and Development Department from 2001 to 2002.

If both are confirmed, that leaves just three vacancies on the 11-member Metra board. The appointing authorities include Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Cook County commissioners.

County spokeswoman Kristen Mack said in an email Preckwinkle had "cast a wide net" and was vetting candidates but didn't expect to have a finalist in time for Wednesday's board meeting.

Mack said Preckwinkle "wants to ensure that a diversity of perspectives are represented on the Metra board. She intends to appoint an African-American from the South suburbs."

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