Appeared in the Chicago SunTimes Letter to the Editor on August 13, 2013.
One can debate endlessly whether Metra’s agreement with Alex Clifford was, in fact, the most efficient use of public funds, when we’re told the alternative could have been protracted litigation. Further, one can continue wondering how public officials could make what appears to be such an elementary error by appointing a board member who was not eligible because he had other government employment.
As chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority, I strongly believe that additional regional transit oversight is sorely needed and that the RTA is the only agency in the region fully qualified to perform this oversight.
To that end, I plan on working with elected officials from across the state to draft legislation that will allow the RTA to more effectively discharge the responsibilities it has been given 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. It is my belief that all service board severance agreements or employment-related settlements that exceed $50,000 should be brought to the RTA board prior to being executed. Furthermore, all service board 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. Under current law, there are no minimum qualifications for appointment to the transit boards. I would propose that any potential board member should be required to meet certain basic qualifications, including possessing a transportation, finance or planning background and living in the geographic area for which he or she is being appointed.
- End “revolving door” practice. Illinois law must be strengthened regarding board members and conflicts of interests and so called “revolving door” issues. I believe that board members should be prohibited from engaging in any business relations with the RTA, any service board or appointing authorities during their term of service or for a two-year period following the expiration of their term.
- Facilitate board member removal when appropriate. Removing a board member under current law is nearly impossible. I would suggest that any elected official who is granted the authority to appoint a board member should also have the authority to remove that individual from office in cases of incompetence, neglect of duty, malfeasance in office, conviction of a crime, etc.
- Greater budgetary authority. RTA must be given greater authority regarding the budget. I propose that the service boards be required to provide the RTA with detailed budgets and the RTA should be granted line-item veto power with the ability to make amendments to budget line items.
The current public perception of waste and abuse of tax dollars threatens to damage the very fabric of our world-class transit community and the public perception of Chicagoland as a whole. We have many challenges regarding our system, most importantly the need to repair our transit system and bring it to a state of good repair. I hope the Legislature takes action and grants the RTA these additional tools so that we can move forward with the important work of managing our transit system for its 2 million daily riders.
John S. Gates Jr.,
chairman, RTA board