Editorial: Glimmers of light for Metra
A summer of uncertainty for the Metra board of directors seems to be approaching an end, no doubt to the relief of those involved as well as to train riders and taxpayers.
In recent weeks, three Metra directors have been appointed, bringing the board back from the brink of the paralysis that would have occurred had the number on the board dipped below six.
Several other recent moves bring hope of restoring some stability and credibility to the 11-member board, which has been reeling ever since former CEO Alex Clifford departed with a severance package of up to $718,000 and a flurry of public allegations that former board Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins condoned patronage hiring and attempted to steer contracts to political allies. O'Halloran and Huggins denied the accusation but were among five directors who resigned in the fallout.
One refreshing change comes from Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston, who is accepting applications from the public for a Metra board appointment under his control. Candidates have until Sept. 25 to apply and then will be interviewed during an open meeting of Cook County commissioners.
Directors typically are chosen behind closed doors, with the six county board chairmen in the Chicago area, suburban Cook County commissioners and the Chicago mayor making the picks. Suffredin's approach signals an intention to move past political cronyism at Metra and sets an example for others to follow in filling upcoming Metra vacancies. It contrasts with DuPage County, where several applicants said they were not interviewed before county board President Dan Cronin named former county board member John Zediker to the Metra board this week.
Several more Metra appointments will be coming up, but those need not be as hurried as those in recent weeks. That's because in several cases current Metra directors sensibly are staying on while replacements are picked.
Former Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder and former state Sen. Jack Schaffer of Cary both say they will depart when their terms expire in June. Evanston attorney William Widmer -- the director whose spot is being filled by Suffredin's open application process -- says he'll stay on until a replacement is named, though his term has expired.
We're grateful that they've taken that approach. A wholesale, immediate replacement of the entire Metra board, called for by some, seems a shortsighted route to the kind of strong, independent leadership that's so badly needed.
Schaffer, in particular, represented that kind of independence when he cast the sole vote against Clifford's golden parachute. Both he and Mulder have represented suburban interests well and, in delaying their departures, continue to do so.
Now, those appointing their replacements need to take as much care.