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Quinn interested in forming Metra task force

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday that he’s interested in forming a panel of experts to look at overhauling the Chicago area’s scandal-plagued commuter railroad, Metra, and the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees it.

Four Metra board members have resigned in recent weeks amid criticism of a $718,000 buyout of ousted Metra CEO Alex Clifford. He claims he was pushed out for resisting pressure on hiring and salary issues from politicians, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who denies wrongdoing.

Quinn said the problems that have plagued Metra for years, including the latest ones, should sound an “alarm bell” for needed reforms.

“We need to have fundamental overhaul in the whole oversight of public transit in northeastern Illinois,” Quinn said after an unrelated event in Chicago.

The Chicago Democrat didn’t go into detail about his plan or disclose a timeline for it, but he said he’d likely wait to form a task force until after a state inspector general’s investigation of the allegations is completed. He suggested that Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider would likely be one of the panel experts.

Quinn has formed similar panels before.

In 2009, he appointed a group to investigate admission practices at the University of Illinois after admission preferences for well-connected applicants were revealed by news reports. Eventually, Quinn replaced nearly all board members at the university.

In the case of Metra, Quinn doesn’t have the same power to appoint board members, but thinks an overhaul of the structure is needed.

Quinn said he’d want the panel to come up with recommendations for lawmakers, potentially by the fall.

Metra has been in the spotlight for corruption issues before, starting with bribery allegations about a decade ago. Clifford’s predecessor, Phil Pagano, was accused of defrauding Metra out of about $475,000. He committed suicide in 2010 by stepping in front of a Metra train.

Quinn isn’t the only one advocating for reforms at RTA and Metra.

His potential 2014 gubernatorial challengers, including Democratic former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, have called for changes. Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, who has also launched a bid, has proposed legislation for reforms, including term limits for board members.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen

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