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Two vacancies filled on embattled Metra Board

Vacancies filled as legal memo clears McHenry rep of wrongdoing

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 5:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 11:18 p.m. CDT

The embattled Metra Board now has the minimum membership necessary to elect a chairman in the wake of five scandal-tainted resignations.

And the votes Tuesday to fill two of the vacancies come in the wake of a memo absolving Jack Schaffer, McHenry County's representative, of wrongdoing in forwarding confidential documents to former CEO Alex Clifford, whose resignation sparked the scandal.

The DuPage and Kane county boards on Tuesday filled their vacant seats on the 11-member board with former county board member John Zediker and former bankruptcy judge Manuel Barbosa. The votes bring the Metra Board up to eight members, the minimum under its bylaws needed to elect a chairman and, eventually, a permanent replacement for Clifford.

The board could be brought up to nine if the Chicago City Council approves Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pick of former Alderman Martin Oberman.

Schaffer was under fire after reports surfaced that he forwarded internal documents to Clifford in the months before his ouster, for which Schaffer cast the sole opposing vote. Critics charged that the information may have enabled Clifford to wrangle his hefty separation agreement, which could total $718,000.

A Sept. 4 memo from acting Metra General Counsel Sue-Ann Rosen concluded that Schaffer's communications with Clifford did not violate any attorney-client privileges or fiduciary duties. The memo also concludes that Schaffer's actions "likely had no impact on Clifford's claims or the settlement negotiations."

"I think [the memo] vindicates the fact that I didn't do anything that I shouldn't have done," Schaffer said Monday.

This latest scandal began when the Metra Board bought out Clifford with eight months remaining on his first contract. As lawmaker outrage grew, a memo from Clifford became public, in which he alleged that former board Chairman Brad O'Halloran and board member Larry Huggins wanted him gone for refusing to go along with patronage hiring and questionable contracting decisions.

O'Halloran, who represents southern Cook County, resigned under pressure. Huggins resigned after Emanuel asked him to do so – Oberman will be his replacement if approved by the City Council. Zediker and Barbosa replace former members Paul Darley and Mike McCoy, who stepped down in the weeks after Clifford's departure.

In a Monday interview, Schaffer said Oberman would be a good pick because he "is not part of the Chicago way." Oberman served as an independent alderman who represented the 43rd Ward for 12 years, and according to Emanuel earned a reputation as a "vigilant protector of taxpayer interests."

"He's very clearly not a patronage hack," Schaffer said. "He's not going to put up with that."

Clifford was hired in 2011 to clean up Metra after the scandal surrounding former CEO Phil Pagano, who led the agency for two decades. Pagano killed himself in 2010 near his rural Crystal Lake home by stepping in front of a Metra train hours before the board was set to fire him for collecting $475,000 in unauthorized vacation payouts and other fiscal irregularities.

Four Metra Board members stepped down in the wake of the Pagano scandal.

After this newest scandal, Gov. Pat Quinn last month convened a task force to investigate fraud and suggest reforms of all four Chicago-area mass-transit agencies.

If Oberman's appointment is confirmed, the two remaining vacant seats will be those of O'Halloran and former member Stanley Rakestraw, who was forced to resign by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after it was revealed that Rakestraw no longer met the residency requirement.

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