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State pols pressure County Board not to reappoint Jourdan to RTA board

Published: Monday, July 1, 2013 4:12 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:04 a.m. CDT

The controversial severance package given to Metra's ousted executive director has prompted two lawmakers to urge the McHenry County Board not to reappoint former GOP powerbroker Al Jourdan to the Regional Transportation Authority Board.

Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks and Republican Sen. Dan Duffy urged the County Board in a Monday news release to choose someone "independent and reform-minded" instead of Jourdan.

The County Board had been scheduled to vote to reappoint Jourdan on Tuesday, but the vote will be postponed for reasons County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill said are unrelated.

Jourdan, who spent 30 years as McHenry County Republican Party chairman and about three years as state chairman, has been the county's RTA representative since 2008.

Franks, a longtime critic of how Chicago-area mass transit agencies are run, said that new blood is imperative as the RTA looks into the severance package given by Metra to outgoing Executive Director Alex Clifford. The RTA, which is responsible for financial oversight of Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority, announced last week that it would examine the deal, which could cost as much as $750,000.

"I'm tired of government by cronyism," said Franks, D-Marengo. "To reform government, you have to do different things. You can't keep reappointing the same good-old-boy patronage network."

Franks and Duffy both called on the County Board to solicit applications from qualified individuals. Under state law, collar county board chairmen have the power to recommend their representatives to mass transit boards, pending full county board approval.

The Metra Board on June 21 accepted Clifford's resignation with eight months remaining on his contract. It approved $422,000 in severance pay, as well as paying Clifford's legal fees, moving expenses and health insurance costs. The agreement also included a gag order preventing Clifford or Metra officials from talking about the settlement.

Clifford, a former executive at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was hired in 2011 in the wake of the scandal surrounding longtime Executive Director Phil Pagano. Pagano, who was accused of defrauding Metra of about $475,000, committed suicide in May 2010 by stepping in front of a Metra train near his rural Crystal Lake home, just hours before the Metra board planned to vote to fire him.

Hill, R-Woodstock, said that Jourdan's reappointment will be pulled from Tuesday's agenda for the sole reason that new County Board members can meet with him and get to know him. More than one-third of the County Board's 24 seats changed hands last November.

Jourdan's five-year RTA term expired in April, but Hill postponed considering the appointment because state lawmakers were pondering a bill to merge the RTA with the lesser-known Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. The bill was sent back to committee in the Senate and not called for a vote in the spring session.

Hill said that other candidates expressed interest in filling the seat, but they did not have Jourdan's expertise.

Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, disagreed that a more qualified candidate cannot be found in a county the size of McHenry County. And although state law clearly gives Hill the prerogative to recommend a candidate, he said he would like to see a more open process.

"Here we go again, appointing the same people instead of looking at all of the candidates available, and new and creative minds to give us a creative approach and a fresh perspective to get the state back on track," Duffy said.

The sole vote on the Metra Board against accepting Clifford's resignation came from Jack Schaffer, McHenry County's representative. He told the Northwest Herald last week that  Clifford was "too honest for Illinois" and was forced out because he wouldn't look the other way on political patronage jobs. Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran said that Clifford was departing because of a "difference in opinion" on the direction of the rail network.

A bill stripping pension and insurance benefits from future appointees to the four mass-transit boards is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Franks wrote the bill and passed it through the House, and Duffy was chief sponsor in the Senate.

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