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Our View: Lead Metra on fresh new course

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, June 1, 2014 1:18 p.m. CDT

Marc Munaretto will have his work cut out for him if the McHenry County Board on Tuesday approves his nomination to represent the county on the Metra Board.

A former County Board member himself, Munaretto was chosen by County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill to replace Jack Schaffer, whose term expires June 30. Schaffer is not seeking reappointment.

Metra’s problems are well-documented. The suburban transportation agency is in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades but has no money to pay for them, in large part because of years of mismanagement and corruption.

Former Metra CEO Phil Pagano stepped in front of one of his own trains in 2010 just hours before the Metra Board was set to fire him for stealing $475,000 from the agency.

Pagano’s replacement, CEO Alex Clifford, seemed to have Metra back on the right track until he was summarily forced out for, he says, not caving to the patronage demands of politicians such as powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan. With eight months remaining on Clifford’s contract, the Metra Board in 2013 approved a $718,000 severance package that included terms that Clifford not discuss why he was leaving the agency. His allegations came to light only after angry state lawmakers demanded answers.

Needless to say, Metra’s recent history is not a good one.

That said, we recognize Metra’s importance to area residents. Thousands use Metra trains to commute to jobs in the nearer suburbs and the city. The service it provides is vital to the economies of McHenry and other collar counties.

But Metra needs a thorough cleansing.

Munaretto has a strong financial background. He was the longtime chairman of the County Board Finance and Audit Committee during a time when county government was able to obtain its top-notch credit rating. This Editorial Board often endorsed Munaretto’s candidacy.

But we also were critical of him and a few other County Board members who participated in an illegal committee meeting in 2011 where redistricting was discussed outside of public scrutiny.

Metra is in the public’s disfavor in part because of a similar lack of transparency.

We trust Munaretto has learned from his earlier mistake. He must make sure Metra’s business is conducted in an open and honest manner. He says he has ideas he wants to explore with Metra staff that could bring about the much-needed infrastructure improvements, as well as expand service to McHenry County.

We hope Munaretto is successful.

Like state government overall, Metra needs to be led in a new direction.

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