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Plan in place to find new RTA representative

Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 11:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 11:14 p.m. CDT

McHenry County will have a new representative on the Regional Transportation Authority Board under an agreement between County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill and current representative Al Jourdan.

Under the plan, Hill will keep the longtime GOP insider in his expired term while accepting applications for a successor.

Once the successor is chosen, Jourdan will step down.

Hill revealed the agreement after a Thursday meeting with Jourdan.

“It’s an interim until we find and mentor and train someone through this open interview process,” said Hill, R-Woodstock.

While state law gives Hill the power to nominate the county’s representative to the RTA Board, final approval rests with a majority of the 24-member County Board.

Jourdan’s term expired April 1, but reappointment has been delayed twice because of turmoil at the RTA, and subsequently Metra.

The 16-member RTA Board has financial oversight over Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Jourdan, who has been the county’s RTA representative since 2008, spent 30 years as McHenry County Republican Party chairman between 1968 and 1998, and about three of those years as state chairman.

He said he wants to step down because “it’s just time” and cited his age – he turns 79 next month. Jourdan said his decision has nothing to do with the ongoing Metra controversy.

“I don’t intend to step down until we get a person in place who can really understand what’s going on with this turmoil in transportation,” Jourdan said.

Hill had said in April she wanted to keep Jourdan on while the fate of the RTA Board was in limbo, courtesy of a bill in Springfield aimed at merging it with the lesser-known Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. A July 2 vote to reappoint Jourdan was postponed – it was scheduled in the wake of growing lawmaker outrage over a $718,000 severance package the Metra Board granted to former CEO Alex Clifford with eight months remaining on his first contract. The day before the aborted vote, two McHenry County lawmakers – Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks and Republican Sen. Dan Duffy – urged the County Board to reject Jourdan in favor of someone “independent and reform-minded.”

Hill said she will take an additional step of oversight in that finalists for the seat will be publicly interviewed by a three-member panel consisting of herself, Planning and Development Committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and Transportation Committee Chairwoman Anna May Miller, R-Cary.

“We will put out a call for appointments just like any one of our other appointments,” Hill said. “It will be open and transparent like we do them all. It’s a new day, people want to know what’s going on, and it’s not that difficult of a step to take.”

That extra step also would help ensure that whoever makes the cut will have better odds of being approved by the full County Board. State law allows representatives to mass-transit boards to serve beyond the expiration of their terms at the pleasure of their appointing authorities, which in the collar counties’ case is the county board chairman or the Will County executive.

Hill said she has no timetable for the replacement process to begin, except that it will be soon.

Aside from voluntary resignation or inability to serve, an appointee of a mass-transit board can be removed only by a two-thirds majority vote of the board itself, or by the governor if a report from the Executive Inspector General finds a member guilty of corruption, abuse or neglect.

But the structures and powers of these boards – and their very existence – are being challenged as a result of the ongoing scandal at Metra.

Clifford alleges he was forced out for refusing to acquiesce to political patronage requests. He has accused former Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran and board member Larry Huggins of wanting him gone for refusing a request by powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan to give a raise to one employee and to hire an unnamed person for another job. Clifford also said he refused to fire employees at O’Halloran’s request and opposed contracting decisions by Huggins that Clifford called inappropriate regarding the Englewood Flyover rail bridge on Chicago’s South Side.

Both O’Halloran and Huggins stepped down last week, bringing to four the number of Metra Board members who have resigned since Clifford’s severance deal was approved in June. Clifford was hired in 2011 to clean up the agency after the scandal surrounding former Metra CEO Phil Pagano, who killed himself before the board was set to fire him over taking $475,000 in unauthorized vacation payouts.

Calls to overhaul the mass-transit boards began with the Pagano scandal and are escalating with the Clifford scandal and recent, unrelated resignations on the RTA Board. One member resigned after an RTA review concluded the law forbade him from holding a board seat and his seat on the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Another resigned after it became public that a judge ordered him to repay a $91,000 state services grant.

An RTA Board member earns a $25,000 salary, but whomever replaces Jourdan will not get benefits. A Franks bill signed into law last month strips appointees to all four mass-transit boards of taxpayer-subsidized health care, life insurance and accrual of pension benefits.

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