Metra picks Orland Park official as new chairman
BY TINA SFONDELES Transportation Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org November 2, 2012 1:52PM
New Metra Board Chairman Brad O'Halloran | Provided photo
Updated: November 2, 2012 9:14PM
Metra on Friday appointed Orland Park village trustee Brad O’Halloran as chairman, despite some political theatrics before the vote.
O’Halloran, a Republican, was unanimously voted into the position by Metra’s 11-member board of directors. But the board first put former acting chairman Larry Huggins’ name up for vote. He received no votes from collar county board chairmen, then took his name out of consideration and allowed O’Halloran to be considered chairman.
The vote ended more than a year of political turmoil about who should lead the agency in what sources said included a battle to balance suburban and Chicago interests. Also in play were the wishes of some elected officials to have new leadership to place further distance from the scandal involving Executive Director Phil Pagano, who committed suicide in 2010 while being investigated for paying himself hundreds of thousands of dollars in unapproved vacation pay.
Huggins had been appointed interim chair last year when Carole Doris resigned. During her tenure, Doris authorized a special counsel to investigate allegations of impropriety against Pagano.
O’Halloran’s first goal, he says, is to tackle Metra’s massive need for capital funds to pay for new equipment and track repair. He said he’ll do his best to secure more federal and state funds and will be a familiar face in Springfield and in Washington D.C.
“Everyone is being squeezed and everyone at the municipal level or the federal level. We just need to be as proactive as we can to get the funds at every level…This is the immediate future…the next five years and the next decade,” O’Halloran said. “We’re talking billions of dollars this agency will be needing.”
The commuter rail agency last month released its budget, which included scenarios in which fares could be hiked up to 10 percent. O’Halloran said those aren’t out of the picture, but that no decision has been made.
“I don’t want to speak ahead of that decision but what we can’t do is we can’t kick the can down the road and then in five years come to the public and say, ‘Hey, we need this whopper,’” O’Halloran said. “I think people would rather have small increases, that reflect the costs to make sure that Metra is stewarding the money appropriately.”
O’Halloran grew up on the South Side and has lived in Orland Park and the south suburbs for 26 years. But he said he wouldn’t favor the city or the south suburbs in terms of transportation needs: “My job will certainly be to make sure that all areas of Metra’s [six-county] service area are represented adequately.”