Move to pick suburban Metra chair fails

Updated 10/12/2012 4:39 PM
  • Politics over the Metra chairman's job emerged Friday.

    Politics over the Metra chairman's job emerged Friday. Daily Herald file photo

Despite behind-the-scenes political intrigue, Metra's leadership remained the same Friday.

A vote in favor of picking Metra Director Brad O'Halloran of Orland Park as chairman failed, leaving Acting Chairman Larry Huggins of Chicago in charge for now. Eight votes are required to approve a chairman; O'Halloran received seven to Huggins' four.

Usually, selecting a transit agency chairman is a carefully orchestrated affair, with board members acting on the direction of the elected officials who appoint them. Friday's disagreement reflected a growing power struggle between the suburbs and city of Chicago.

Huggins shrugged off any dissension. "At the end of the day, we as a board will come together," he said.

Board Director and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder praised Huggins but voted for O'Halloran, noting afterward she was acting with the advice of the suburban Cook County members who appointed her.

The board has been without a permanent chairman since the departure of Carole Doris in April 2011. Her departure came amid criticism of the board for being asleep at the switch when former Executive Director Phil Pagano was misusing funds.

Finding a permanent replacement for Doris has touched off a power struggle among the elected officials who appoint Metra directors -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the chairmen of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, and suburban Cook County Board directors.

That friction was exacerbated this fall by a fight over how much money Metra, the CTA and Pace should get in about $200 million in Regional Transportation Authority discretionary revenues.

Although O'Halloran seemed to have emerged as the consensus choice, that fell through Friday amid rumors that there was an effort to exclude Chicagoans from the chairman position.

Nine Chicago alderman and Congressman Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat, blasted what they characterized as a proposed bylaw they said was discriminatory because it excluded Chicago directors from taking leadership positions.

"For you to take this step is inconceivable," 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell said.

Metra Director Jack Schaffer of Cary assured the aldermen no such change would occur. "This was illegal and stupid," he said of the proposal.

The aldermen did not know who had proposed the change, and the proposed bylaw did not appear on the agenda. Several Metra directors said they thought the idea came from an elected suburban official.

Metra directors did vote, however, to institute a four-year rotating chairmanship -- once someone is chosen. The rotation would be between Collar County directors and Cook County directors including Chicagoans.

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