By Richard Wronski, Tribune reporter
All outside requests to hire or promote employees at Metra will be publicly disclosed under a new policy the commuter rail service approved Friday — a move aimed at discouraging politicians from trying to wield clout.
The effort is "another nail in the coffin of patronage," Chairman Martin Oberman said.
"We want the message to be loud and clear that political considerations in all employment-related matters are not and will not be tolerated," he said.
The anti-patronage measure is intended to prevent instances like those alleged by Metra's former CEO, who said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan sought a raise for a supporter who worked at Metra and that another legislator asked that an ally be hired for a top job.
Though the General Assembly's watchdog determined that Madigan and Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, did not violate the state's ethics law, Metra's board said it considered such efforts improper and wanted to dissuade similar actions.
Metra's board approved the policy at a meeting at the DuPage County administrative center in Wheaton, the first ever held outside the agency's headquarters in downtown Chicago. The trip to DuPage was intended to make Metra more accessible. Future meetings are planned in other counties.
Metra officials rode to Wheaton aboard a specially equipped Union Pacific-provided train and got a tour of improvements on the UP West Line. One upgrade, the addition of a third track on some sections, will enhance on-time performance and may eventually allow more express runs, Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said.
The reform policy, adopted unanimously by Metra's board, requires all employment-related communications to be entered into a log available to the public.
The action comes on the heels of a Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force recommendation that agencies be required to disclose communications with elected officials or their representatives regarding employment matters. That should be carried out, the task force said, through a publicly available and regularly updated database.
The policy covers everything from employee hiring to promotions, raises and terminations.
Metra's board intends to interpret the policy strictly and include even requests from nonpoliticians, Oberman said.
If a "neighbor calls me up, says his kid's graduating, that will be logged," he said. "My mother calls me up, says, 'Why won't you hire your own son?' That will be logged."
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