End of the line as Metra rep, Schaffer says

WOODSTOCK – Within weeks of Tina Hill’s election as McHenry County Board chairwoman last month, Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks wrote her a letter asking about her intentions regarding county Metra representative Jack Schaffer.

Whatever her intentions are, they will have to include finding a replacement next year. Schaffer said he does not intend to seek another four-year term on the Metra Board of Directors.

Franks since 2010 has wanted to purge members, particularly Schaffer, who were on the board during the era of former Executive Director Phil Pagano, who was found to have inappropriately taken at least $475,000 in unauthorized vacation payouts, twice forging the former board president’s signature. Pagano committed suicide in May 2010 by stepping in front of a Metra train near his rural Crystal Lake home, hours before the board was set to fire him.

Schaffer told the Northwest Herald late Friday morning that he will not submit his name for reappointment. The former state senator and former head of the McHenry County Republican Party was appointed to his first term in 2006. His second term expires June 30, 2014.

“Eight years is enough for me, thank you. That gives them plenty of time [to find a replacement],” Schaffer said.

Schaffer’s continued presence on the Metra
Board was an issue over which Franks and former County Board Chairman Ken Koehler butted heads more than once. Franks wanted Schaffer gone; Koehler wanted him to stay.

They had a brief but testy exchange when Franks brought up Metra at Thursday’s meeting of the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, of which Koehler is the vice chairman.

Franks and several other lawmakers have accused the Metra Board of lax oversight of Pagano and had clamored for a clean sweep of members from the Pagano era. Franks said Schaffer, treasurer for the 11-member board, had a fiduciary responsibility to watch the salary and benefits of the transit agency’s longtime head. Pagano served 20 years as the agency’s executive director.

But while it is up to the county boards of each collar county to appoint their Metra Board representatives, they have no authority to remove them.

There are two ways a Metra Board member can be removed, according to a Jan. 7 opinion from the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The Metra Board can do it if at least eight members find the member guilty of incompetence, abuse or neglect. The governor also can remove a board member if a summary report from the state Executive Inspector General – an office empowered to watch Chicago’s mass transit agencies as a result of the Pagano scandal – finds a member guilty of the same.

The opinion was part of a much larger one requested by Hill regarding the County Board’s powers to dismiss people appointed to boards and commissions. Hill said she requested it out of an interest in evaluating the appointment process to encourage more interaction and accountability, and not because of Franks’ letter.

Two Metra Board members voluntarily stepped down in the wake of the Pagano scandal after being asked to do so by their respective county board chairmen. Former Metra Chairwoman Carole Doris resigned in April 2011, and Kane County representative Caryl Van Overmeiren left in July.

County board chairmen and four reform-minded Democratic state senators quietly hashed out a plan in June 2011 to have five board members – including Schaffer – step down by June 30, 2012. They were chosen, former state Sen. Susan Garrett said at the time, because they were on the board long enough to bear responsibility for not watching Pagano closely enough.

But that plan fell through, according to sources familiar with the proceedings, because the city of Chicago and the Cook County Board’s suburban members did not want to remove members Larry Huggins and Arlene Mulder. Collar-county boards long wary of losing the chairmanship of Metra to either cash-strapped Chicago or Cook County, were unwilling to unilaterally ask their representatives to resign.

The point became moot in October, when after a year of negotiating the Metra Board elected suburban Cook County member Brad O’Halloran as chairman.

Franks said Hill should follow through and ask Schaffer for his resignation.

“Just letting him stay there to the end of his term is not correct, either. It’s mind-boggling to me that in a county of 300,000 people we have only one person capable of doing this job,” Franks said Friday.

Hill, who said Schaffer “has done a fine job for McHenry County,” said she is examining Franks’ request out of respect for his status as a state legislator, and has been talking to other county board chairmen about their intentions.

While Franks has said his interest in the topic is based solely on good government, Schaffer has alleged that Franks is out to settle a score because Schaffer allowed an attack ad aimed at Franks to be posted on a billboard owned by Schaffer. Franks denies the allegation.

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