Hill to move forward with reappointing Jourdan to RTA

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill plans to move forward with reappointing Al Jourdan to the Regional Transportation Authority Board, but with an agreement with the longtime GOP insider about a succession plan.

Hill, R-Woodstock, said she plans to meet Thursday with Jourdan about reappointment to another five-year term, but with emphasis on training a replacement to succeed him, which she said could be sooner than five years. Jourdan's term expired April 1, but he has continued to serve – a reappointment vote had been postponed because of turmoil at Metra and legislation aimed at eliminating the RTA board altogether.

"I need him right now because there's such upheaval," Hill said Tuesday, the same day that the second RTA board member in a week resigned.

Jourdan, who has been the county's RTA representative since 2008, said Wednesday that he couldn't comment until after he met with Hill. Jourdan spent 30 years as McHenry County Republican Party chairman between 1968 and 1998, and about three of those years as state chairman.

Hill had postponed a July 2 vote to reappoint Jourdan to the 16-member RTA Board, which has financial oversight of the boards of Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority. The vote was scheduled in the wake of growing lawmaker outrage over a $718,000 severance package that the Metra Board granted to former CEO Alex Clifford with eight months remaining on his first contract. The day before, 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."

Franks said Wednesday that reappointing Jourdan would be a continuation of "good-old-boy crony politics continuing on in McHenry County."

"This is the very worst possible solution – to keep someone there who has been a part of a culture of lax oversight and lax accountability, which has fallen below the expectations of the taxpayers," Franks said.

The RTA promised to investigate the Clifford severance package. Its July 10 hearing was widely panned by critics who accused the RTA of lobbing softball questions at former Metra Board Chairman Brad O'Halloran and for failing to invite Clifford. But the RTA met with Clifford in a subsequent hearing July 17, in which he alleged that he was forced out because he would not acquiesce to political patronage requests.

A scathing eight-page memo from Clifford accused O'Halloran and fellow board member Larry Huggins of wanting him gone because he refused 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 wrote that 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.

O'Halloran and Huggins both resigned last week, bringing to four the number of Metra Board members who have quit in the wake of the Clifford severance vote. 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.

The two RTA resignations are unrelated to Metra's latest scandal. Kane County representative Nabi Fakroddin stepped down Tuesday after an RTA review concluded that state law forbade him from holding an RTA seat and a seat on the Illinois Human Rights Commission. The Rev. Tyrone Crider, who represented suburban Cook County, resigned July 31 after it became public that a judge ordered him to repay a $91,000 state services grant.

A bill in the Illinois Senate seeks to merge the RTA with the less-known Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

An RTA Board member earns a $25,000 salary. 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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