Cook County resolution calls on half of Metra Board to quit
BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter August 27, 2013 3:26PM
Don Orseno was named Metra Interim CEO on Tuesday. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:45AM
Hours after Metra Board members unanimously elected an interim CEO, a group of suburban Republican Cook County commissioners announced it wants half of the remaining board to resign.
Metra Board members Don De Graff, Arlene Mulder and William Widmer III are targeted for replacement in a resolution to be considered by the full Cook County Board Sept. 11.
However, at least two — De Graff, the mayor of South Holland, and Mulder, the former mayor of Arlington Heights — indicated Tuesday they don’t plan on budging.
The resolution is the latest turn in the roller-coaster ride that followed the Metra Board’s June 21 decision to award ex-CEO Alex Clifford a 26-month farewell package worth up to $871,000 if he resigned eight months early. Board members say they signed on to the deal rather than face a whistleblower lawsuit by Clifford, who contended he was being ousted because he would not “play ball’’ on patronage and contracts.
At that time, the board was 11 strong. It has since dwindled to six, the minimum needed for a quorum, with some members resigning under pressure.
The proposed Cook County Board resolution released Tuesday asks the three current Metra Board members appointed by suburban Cook County commissioners to resign, but to continue to serve on the Metra board until suburban commissioners can appoint “suitable replacements.’’
The move would allow the Metra board to maintain a quorum during the transition to new members.
The resolution, which is merely advisory, rips into the entire Metra Board, referring to testimony at public hearings and preliminary findings of RTA auditors. It accuses the board of “mishandling ... important issues such as illicit influence and questionable contracts;” of agreeing to a deal with Clifford that the RTA found was “not financially prudent;’’ of not sufficiently documenting its steps toward a deal, and of failing to consider invoking a $10 million liability insurance policy if sued.
However, De Graff insisted the board was never told by outside counsel that the $10 million policy was an option. The board is currently severing its relationship with that firm, JG Law.
Asked if he would resign, De Graff told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I’m not planning to [resign]. I don’t think there’s any good purpose for me or any of the six remaining board members to resign.”
De Graff said he welcomes the results of probes by two inspector generals.
“We are not the problem,’’ De Graff said. “There’s nothing that was done that’s unethical or illegal by any of the remaining six board members. It’s very premature and irresponsible to make any kind of allegations, even in the form of a resolution.”
“Some of the answers as to what was done, who did it, and why it was done still need to be found out,’’ De Graff said. “But the six remaining people are very competent and made the best decision based on the information given to them. And they are willing to serve.’’
Mulder noted that the resolution, if approved, is not binding on Metra Board members.
“I have never walked away from a challenge and my hope is that I will continue to serve until the end of my term [in June 2013].’’
The resolution was sponsored by Republican suburban commissioners Gregg Goslin, Timothy Schneider, Elizabeth Doody Gorman and Peter Silvestri. However, Democratic commissioners also carry some of the authority for appointing the three suburban Metra members, and at least nine votes will be needed next month to approve the proposal, Silvestri conceded.
Even if remaining Metra Board members think they are blameless, “Metra won’t move forward with this current board,’’ Silvestri said. “It won’t work because the public perception is so negative.’’
Earlier Tuesday, the six remaining board members tried to break from the past by unanimously appointing operations chief Donald Orseno interim CEO.
Immediately after Clifford’s departure, the board had tapped both Orseno and administration chief Alex Wiggins to serve as co-directors, with then-chair Brad O’Halloran serving as a tiebreaker, if needed. However, RTA auditors later dumped on that decision, saying a single executive director “who is knowledgeable of transportation and railroad operations’’ should be named.
As a former trainman with 40 years of railroad experience, Orseno clearly fit that bill, acting Metra chair Jack Partelow said Tuesday.
“We run a railroad, and Don is a railroad man,’’ Partelow said. “We’ve got a new day.’’