In a twist from the status quo, the public had a front seat to hear testimony from applicants seeking two openings on the troubled Metra board Tuesday before Cook County commissioners.
Thirteen candidates including a public works engineer, two former mayors, attorneys, plus Metra and CTA retirees asked to represent the north and west suburbs.
Nine hopefuls also sought a second open position representing the southwest suburbs.
The responsibility of screening people for nonelected transit boards falls to chairman of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, the Chicago mayor and Cook County Board and it traditionally occurs behind closed doors.
"This is obviously a very historic day," Commissioner Peter Sylvestri said during the public hearing. Commissioners are expected to make their choices Wednesday.
Metra's been under the gun since June when former CEO Alex Clifford left, accusing two top board directors who've since resigned of misconduct and condoning political patronage over jobs. Clifford's so-called golden parachute separation agreement of up to $718,000 drew outrage from lawmakers and the public, leading to calls for the board to leave en masse. Since then, five directors have resigned.
Among the contenders for the north/west suburban Cook spot were retired accountant Noreen Lake and attorney Robert Porada, both of Des Plaines.
"My strength is forensic accounting," said Lake, former Des Plaines Library Board president. "I'm open-minded, and I do my homework."
"The Metra board needs to deliver ethical governance and inspire excellence," said Porada, adding that the new director should be a consensus builder but willing to dissent when it's right.
Retired Metra manager of schedules Paul Oppenheim of Oak Park noted his 40 years of transit experience with commuter rail plus a stint at Pace meant he could hit the ground running. "I'm disappointed to see the agency I spent most of my career with tarnished by controversy," he said. "But the right people can provide positive direction."
Another transit veteran, retired Chicago Transit Authority attorney John Plante of Wilmette, said safety would be a priority with him if appointed. After a 35-year career, "I know how to get things done," he said.
Meanwhile, Oak Park resident Peter Creticos, an industrial engineer, said he was involved in reforms to the Regional Transportation Authority Act in the 1980s and had a "track record for honesty." Metra needs to expand its revenue base, said Creticos, president of the not-for-profit Institute for Work and the Economy.
Also throwing their hats in the ring were Des Plaines Assistant Director of Public Works and Engineering Jon Duddles, former Winnetka Village President Jessica Tucker and former Morton Grove Mayor Daniel Staackmann.