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posted: 3/5/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Transit task force on right track about pay

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Should regional public transit board members be paid for their services?

The ethics working group of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force, at least preliminarily, is recommending no.

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And we agree it's an idea worth pursuing further. Those who serve on the Regional Transportation Authority can make as much as $25,000 a year. The three boards that report to the RTA -- Metra, the commuter rail agency; Pace, the suburban bus agency; and the city-based Chicago Transit Authority -- all pay their directors as well.

"I do think that there ought to be a sense that service on a board is service to the board, " said former U.S. attorney and task force member Patrick Fitzgerald. "It's not about drawing a salary. This makes folks independent."

We like that logic.

And we like that Fitzgerald and this task force are willing to make some hard, controversial choices when it comes to making recommendations for the troubled agencies. Not paying directors certainly won't be popular with the directors -- or even former directors.

Carole Brown, for example, a former CTA board chairman and RTA member, said board members "contribute an incredible amount of time and effort." She does not advocate stripping their pay.

Yet, according to the task force, board members for transit agencies in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia all are unpaid. That's a strong argument in favor of Fitzgerald's group's recommendation.

"What is unique about this area that we need to pay folks compared to New York and Los Angeles?" he asked.

That's a great question. And anyone who supports paying the board members ought to have a strong answer prior to this report getting finalized this month.

The task force, which started work in 2013 after a series of scandals at Metra, is also recommending board appointees be vetted by an independent panel, be subject to background checks and be removed for crimes, misconduct, inefficiency or neglect of duty. It also recommends a "firewall" be established between elected officials and agencies regarding hiring, firing and purchases.

These are important recommendations that are needed to improve the public's perception of these agencies.

These changes, Fitzgerald said, "might go a long way to restore public confidence so people feel confident this isn't just politics" at play.

As final details of the recommendations get worked out, we urge the public to offer their input by going to http://www.dot.il.gov/nepublictransit.html

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