Ex-US attorney criticizes Metra hiring policies

CHICAGO – Chicago-area transit agencies don't appear to adequately train staff on how to prevent political hiring, according to former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a member of a task force looking into reforms after Metra's former CEO claimed he was forced out for refusing to hire people as favors to politicians.

Fitzgerald, known for sending corrupt politicians and mobsters to prison when he was the top federal prosecutor in Chicago, said his opinion is based on written responses to 25 ethics questions he posed to the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace.

He said during a task force meeting on Wednesday that it appears the agencies provide "lots of training" on avoiding discrimination based on things like gender, sexual orientation, race and disabilities, and some training about gift-giving and nepotism. But he said he didn't see much training on "removing politics from hiring," the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"I have concerns about that," Fitzgerald said.

Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford claimed two board members conspired to push him out of the commuter rail agency after he refused to go along with patronage hiring, including requests from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Clifford got an $871,000 severance package when he left earlier this year.

That sparked investigations into the transit agencies and prompted Gov. Pat Quinn to form the task force. The panel's first report is due next month.