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County rep to stay on RTA for bill battle

Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:31 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – A legislative effort to do away with the Regional Transportation Authority is putting McHenry County’s appointment of its representative on hold.

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill said Friday that she would allow representative Al Jourdan to stay on, despite the fact that his term expired Monday, while he and the county fight a state bill aimed at merging the RTA with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“I don’t want to change people in the middle of this, while he’s out there protecting the county’s interests,” said Hill, R-Woodstock.

Senate Bill 1594, sponsored by state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, seeks to merge the RTA, which oversees Chicago-area mass transit, with CMAP, a lesser-known agency that oversees land use and long-range transportation planning. It passed the Senate Executive Committee last month on an 8-5 vote and could face a Senate vote this month.

The bill would create a new, 18-member unpaid board. The 15-member CMAP board is uncompensated, while the 16 members of the RTA board receive $25,000 a year with benefits.

Jourdan, of Johnsburg, has been the county’s RTA representative since 2008 and was the former chairman of the county and state Republican Party. He could not be reached for comment Friday. Should the bill fail, Hill said Jourdan’s reappointment is not a sure thing, and that she would entertain other applicants.

The bill seeks to “eliminate unnecessary and duplicative functions and provide the most cost-effective means to ensure that transit services are fast, well-planned, well-maintained, efficient, convenient, safe and attractive.” Its goal is to double mass-transit use in 25 years.

But Hill and other opponents, such as the McHenry County Council of Governments, say the proposal is a bad deal for McHenry County and the other collar counties and would further dilute their voices.

The new board would consist of one representative from each of the five collar counties, five each selected by the Chicago mayor and the Cook County Board chairman, and three by the governor.

Dan Shea, who has represented the county on CMAP since its 2005 creation, called the proposed merger a Chicago power grab. He said CMAP requires a 12-vote majority to advance legislation, which gives the collar counties a veto power that would not exist under the new proposal.

“The most insidious thing about this is that it increases the number of [Chicago] people on the board controlling these combined agencies,” said Shea, a former County Board member and former Fox River Grove village president. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no good reason for this to happen.”

Chicago control of mass transit – and its dollars – has long been a touchy subject among McHenry County leaders. Much of the RTA’s sales-tax funding, for example, goes to the Chicago Transit Authority. And local leaders have long felt that McHenry County, with one Metra line and a handful of Pace routes, gives far more than it gets back.

The Link bill does not do away with the boards of Metra, Pace or the CTA, which now answer to the RTA. But it would require the merged RTA/CMAP board by 2015 to develop a plan requiring all three to buy supplies and insurance jointly, and to implement a unified ticket and fare system.

Link’s initiative is not the first by a state lawmaker aimed at reforming the RTA.

A number of bills have been filed by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, since the 2010 scandal surrounding former Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano. He has filed bills in previous General Assemblies aimed at merging the RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace, and to make the boards directly elected by voters rather than appointed.

Franks filed a bill in January that would eliminate salaries, pensions and benefits for the boards. 

Link was one of several senators in 2011 who pushed to have every Metra board member who served during the Pagano era fired. Pagano, who committed suicide by stepping in front of a Metra train, was found to have inappropriately taken at least $475,000 in unauthorized vacation payouts.

The Metra board was not only criticized for not watching Pagano closely enough, but also for spending almost double what Pagano stole to investigate the scandal.

The County Board has the discretion to allow appointees to boards and commissions to serve beyond their expiring terms until reappointed or replaced.

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