Regional Transportation Authority leaders say it's a new day with the appointment of senior planner Leanne Redden as acting executive director Wednesday, but questions are swirling about the recent past following a troubling report on improprieties.
Redden will take over March 1 with the retirement of Executive Director Joe Costello, who, along with Chief of Staff Jordan Matyas, was the subject of a 2012 inquiry by an independent attorney triggered by an anonymous letter.
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The attorney, Renee Benjamin, interviewed staff members and concluded testimony about low morale, a "culture of fear," racial insensitivity and sexually offensive remarks were "credible."
In a statement Tuesday prompted by a Daily Herald inquiry, RTA officials said they took the issue seriously and sent the letter to the state inspector general.
Costello has denied allegations by RTA employees of using a racial term to describe an African-American worker and making suggestive comments to female staff members, including jokes about spanking and having an affair. Matyas, the son-in-law of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, called testimony that he used a racial term to describe an African-American employee "false and antithetical to my character."
At Wednesday's meeting, Chairman John S. Gates did not respond to requests for interviews from reporters and publicly praised Costello's record.
"He's our leading expert on transit and transit funding," Gates said. "He led the fight to get the budget balanced ... and has won numerous awards."
Gates also asked Costello to open the meeting with an invocation. "Give us the insight to lead with integrity," Costello prayed.
Several directors left without comment and Director Douglas Troiani, chairman of the human resources committee that reviewed the anonymous complaint, tersely told reporters, "the RTA has already given a statement."
The statement said the agency had sent Costello and Matyas to management training and reviewed its policies about personnel and how to handle complaints about senior managers accused of harassing employees.
"It's a disconcerting report," said state Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Arlington Heights who sits on the Mass Transit Committee. "If there's any accuracy to the assertions ... that's not the type of working environment anyone would want to work in. Hopefully there will be a change in management style that clearly addresses the type of working environment described.
"I think they did the right thing by turning it over to the executive inspector general," Harris added.
Redden was former planning chief at the Illinois tollway and transportation director for Schaumburg. As senior deputy chief for planning at the RTA, she helped craft 2008 legislation strengthening the agency and has focused on projects involving bus rapid transit and traffic signal prioritization.
"I am certain Leanne Redden as the new executive director will never tolerate offensive behavior by employees and will be effective in improving the work environment and morale at the RTA," University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Transportation Center Executive Director and former RTA chief Steve Schlickman said.
The agency is expected to conduct a professional search for a permanent head.