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Forum: Changes to improve RTA

Updated: October 7, 2013 12:53PM



One can debate endlessly whether the Metra Board’s agreement with former chief executive Alex Clifford was an efficient use of public funds. And you can wonder how public officials could appoint a board member who was not eligible because he had other government employment.

As chairman of the board of the Regional Transportation Authority, I strongly believe that additional oversight of regional mass transit is sorely needed and that the RTA is the only agency qualified to do so. I plan on working to draft legislation that will allow the RTA to more effectively discharge the responsibilities it has under the law. These changes include:

Employment contracts and settlements. The Metra Board did not provide any advance notice to the RTA when it entered into the costly severance agreement with Mr. Clifford. The RTA first found out about this agreement in the press. All severance agreements or employment-related settlements that exceed $50,000 should be brought to the RTA Board prior to being executed. And all non-employment-related litigation expenses or settlements over $1 million should be provided to the RTA 48 hours prior to any agreement being entered or expense being paid.

Increased requirements of board members. There are now no minimum qualifications for appointment to the transit boards (CTA, Metra, Pace, RTA). Any potential board member should meet basic qualifications, including having a transportation, finance or planning background and living in the geographic area that he or she represents.

End “revolving door” practice. Illinois law must be strengthened regarding board members and conflicts of interest and so-called “revolving door” issues. Board members should be prohibited from engaging in any business relations with the RTA, any service board or appointing authorities during their term and for two years after their term expires.

Facilitate board member removal. Removing a board member under current law is nearly impossible. Any elected official who has the authority to appoint a board member should also be able to remove that person for incompetence, neglect of duty, malfeasance in office, conviction of a crime, etc.

Greater budgetary authority. The RTA Board must have more powers regarding the budget. The service boards should provide the RTA with detailed budgets, and the RTA should be granted line-item veto power and be able to amend budget line items.

The current public perception of waste and abuse of tax dollars threatens to damage our world-class mass transit system. We have many challenges regarding our system, most importantly the need to maintain it in a state of good repair. I hope the Legislature grants the RTA these additional tools so we can better manage our transit system for its 2 million daily riders.

John S. Gates Jr.

Board chairman

Regional Transportation Authority



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