Huggins latest to leave Metra board
Another top leader on Metra's embattled board of directors has resigned in the wake of allegations of misconduct and criticism of mismanagement at the agency.
Director Larry Huggins will step down as a result of discussions Friday with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appoints Chicago's representative on the Metra board.
"I spoke with Larry today and we both agreed he will step down from the Metra board," Emanuel said in a statement. "Larry has had a lifetime of service to the city and neighborhoods. His decision to leave the Metra board demonstrates his commitment and will allow the agency to begin a new chapter."
"I care deeply about this city and in recent days, it has become clear to me it is time for me to step aside and allow Metra to move," said Huggins, a former Metra chairman.
Huggins is the fourth Metra director to resign, leaving the Metra board with just seven members. It's enough to conduct business and vote on most matters but insufficient to elect a new chairman following Chairman Brad O'Halloran's resignation Thursday.
Huggins' exit comes after weeks of scandal at Metra that started with a so-called "golden parachute" given to former CEO Alex Clifford of up to $718,000.
Clifford has accused both Huggins and O'Halloran of condoning political pressure from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other lawmakers as well as conflict of interest involving contracts. The two retaliated against him by jeopardizing his contract renewal because he rejected Chicago politics-as-usual, Clifford claims.
Clifford also said Huggins overstepped his authority in intervening to bring minority contractors onto the Englewood flyover project, a railway bridge on the South Side.
A lack of black contractors on the project enraged Congressmen Danny Davis and Bobby Rush and community members who packed a Metra board meeting in May 2012, accusing directors of excluding African-Americans.
Less than one-half percent of the winning construction contract went to black firms, activists contended.
Huggins, an African American construction executive who grew up in Englewood, intervened to bring more minority contractors into the project, which Clifford said went against federal funding guidelines.
Huggins could not be reached for comment Friday but at an RTA hearing July 17, he said Clifford was "twisting things." "Do I apologize for trying to stand up for the African-American community and try to make sure there was inclusion? No, I do not," Huggins said. "In my opinion, it was the right thing to do."
The tense encounter with lawmakers and residents marked a turning point in what had been a honeymoon period for Clifford with some board members. He replaced deceased CEO Phil Pagano, who was involved in a financial scandal.
Clifford also alleged a Metra subcontractor, the Target Group, did not perform the community outreach the company was paid $200,000 to accomplish. He noted that Huggins was a business associate of the company's owner, Joseph A. Williams. Huggins said he was a business partner with the Target Group's Williams through a development firm, Granite Development Co.
"Have I committed a crime because I know Joseph? No," he said.
Williams said in an email that Huggins had no interest in Target Group and that Clifford himself had referenced outreach events held by the firm on the South Side.
Clifford also testified to the RTA that Huggins had improperly pressured him to contract with the National Black Chamber of Commerce to monitor minority involvement in the flyover without proper accountability.
O'Halloran has denied any wrongdoing and criticized Clifford for failing to bring his ethics concerns to authorities until his contract looked like it was in jeopardy.