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updated: 4/11/2014 7:19 PM

Will patronage log put Metra on right track?

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  • Metra officials hope ethics reforms will win back the public's trust.

      Metra officials hope ethics reforms will win back the public's trust.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

Powerful politicians and neighbors of Metra officials alike will be entered into a log that is accessible by the public if they inquire about getting someone a job at the agency.

The policy change comes after allegations of political pressure by lawmakers over hiring, promotions and contracts at the agency by former CEO Alex Clifford.

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Metra directors approved requiring employees as well as board members themselves to report communications from anyone regarding hiring, firing, raises, demotions or promotions of agency staff members. Any such instances, including the date and identify of the person making the request, must be entered into a log that can be accessed by a Freedom of Information Act request, directors decided Friday at a meeting held in Wheaton.

Although a report from a state task force released in March accused certain lawmakers of abusing their powers historically and in recent years to reward cronies with jobs at Metra, the new rule is not just about politicians, board director John Zediker of Naperville noted.

"It doesn't distinguish from someone at a cocktail party to a congressman," Zediker said.

Metra Chairman Martin Oberman, an attorney, said, "We made it as broad as it could be."

He added that the provision was not intended to deter well-qualified individuals from employment at the agency.

Discipline for employees and directors who fail to report employment requests could include firing.

Also Friday, CEO Don Orseno said he expected to hire a permanent police chief shortly. The police department has been in transition since a scathing report from consultant Hillard Heintze indicated the force was short on training and organization.

About the time the consultant's report was released in mid-January, former Chief James Sanford retired. Sandford was replaced by interim Chief Harvey Radney, a Hillard Heintze executive, who was expected to serve until a permanent chief could be hired.

Friday, officials said Radney was retiring and Hillard Heintze executive Carl Dobrich was now interim chief.

Normally, Metra board meetings are held at the agency's headquarters in the west Loop. However, the new board is making a point of traveling to other locations in the region, Oberman said. Friday's session was held at the DuPage County Government Center in Wheaton.

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