Fitzgerald pushing transit board ethics
By Richard Wronski Tribune reporter
Prospective appointees to Chicago area transit agency boards should be vetted by an
independent, nonpolitical panel to ensure they are qualified and reputable, former U.S.
attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has recommended.
Board members also should serve without compensation, Fitzgerald proposed, unlike the
current system that pays anywhere from $10,000 a year to Pace board members to $25,000
to CTA and Regional Transportation Authority directors. A “firewall” should separate board
members and the elected officials who appoint them from the agencies they oversee to
ensure no political interference is exerted in hiring or promotions, Fitzgerald said.
The proposals were among several outlined Friday to the Public Transit Task Force created by
Gov. Pat Quinn last summer in response to the controversy that erupted over the Metra
board’s ouster of CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford charged he was forced out for resisting political
pressure over jobs and construction contracts.
The 15-member task force is at a “critical time” in its role of proposing reforms for the
Northeastern Illinois mass transit system, said co-Chairman George Ranney Jr. The panel is
expected to issue its report at the end of March. “We were appointed (by the governor) and
we should be doing bold moves,” said task force member Tony Paulauski, executive director of
The Arc of Illinois, an advocacy group for the disabled. “To me, a bold move is not one that says,
let’s wait and be pragmatic. … Let’s make this a report that has some meaning.”
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said the panel needed to
conduct one additional hearing, focusing on transit agency governance. She also encouraged
members of the public to comment via the task force’s website, dot.il.gov/nepublic transit.html .
Fitzgerald, who headed the investigations that led to the imprisonment of two former governors,
George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, is spearheading the task force’s effort on ethics. Pointing
out that one of the goals is to promote a “world-class transit system,” Fitzgerald said, “I think it’s
fair to say we don’t have a world-class ethics system now.”
Transit board members are currently appointed by elected officials from the six-county area, the
city of Chicago and the governor. Fitzgerald suggested they be screened independently by
good government groups or the news media. State law governing appointments should be
amended so board members can be removed by the appointing authorities under certain
circumstances, such as misconduct, Fitzgerald urged.
Task Force member Carole Brown, who has served as an RTA board member and chairman of
the CTA, said some officials make “huge time commitments” to serve on those boards. They often
spend entire days at meetings and away from their regular jobs, she said. Brown proposed
several recommendations for improving transit financing, including eliminating the current system
of allocating funding, which is “flawed and complicated,” she said. Brown drew laughter when she
unveiled a labyrinthine diagram attempting to explain how sales tax and state funding is
apportioned to the transit agencies. She recommended that the current formula for allocating
operating funds be scrapped in favor of one based on performance.
“Neither operations funding nor capital funding is really allocated with the overall goal of improving
regional mobility,” Brown said. The system is underfunded, and existing revenue sources don’t
meet current needs for maintenance of infrastructure and equipment, since Chicago’s transit system
uses some of the nation’s oldest facilities, Brown said.
Other task force members agreed with Brown’s recommendations.
“The reality is, it’s all about money,” Paulauski said. “Unless we do something (about getting) new
revenues, we’re going nowhere.”
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ANTONIO PEREZ/ TRIBUNE Patrick Fitzgerald, former U.S. attorney, called for a “world-class
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
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