** Updated with RTA reaction ***
Calling it “an employment agency to politicians” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Daley called for the elimination of the RTA “as we know it.”
In a news conference this morning held inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center, Daley said substantial changes to the RTA would save $33 million and is necessary in the wake of the ongoing Metra scandal that began with controversy over a golden parachute buyout of its CEO and revealed an alleged hiring scandal there. He called for the governor to have appointment authority over five Metra board members to create a direct accountability link between the board and the governor. The savings should be used to hold down fares and reduce service cuts, he said.
“What it does do is hand out millions of dollars in contracts to politically connected people and serve as an employment agency to politicians,” Daley said. “The RTA has morphed into a bureaucratic Frankenstein that needs to be completely rethought and in many ways eliminated.”
RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello said the RTA hires people “on merit,“ following a “due process” system.
The Metra meltdown over former CEO Alex Clifford’s “separation agreement” might have been prevented had the RTA had more authority, not less, Costello said. He urged that the RTA be given sign-off authority on settlement and severance packages at Metra, Pace and the CTA.
Costello insisted the RTA does not share “redundant” functions with a long list of agencies listed by Daley , although it does work closely with those agencies.
Daley proposed changing the Metra board to have six appointees from six counties and the governor have the authority to appoint five other members.
“I think they all should resign,” Daley said of the current board.
However, Costello questioned how giving the governor appointment power over more RTA board members would create a better RTA.
“It’s unclear to me how rearranging the chairs changes anything,’’ Costello said.
RTA Chair John Gates Jr. later Thursday issued an emailed statement accusing Metra leadership of taking “steps to ensure the RTA board, much like Illinois taxpayers, would remain in the dark” about Clifford’s 26-month, $718,000 deal.
Gates said the RTA is using all the power available to it to examine “thousands of documents” and determine if the deal was “financially appropriate.”
In the meantime, Gates pointed to the Clifford mess as yet another reason why the RTA needs “more extensive oversight,” not less.
Daley’s announcement comes one day after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a similar call. Asked if the two coordinated, Daley said he hadn’t spoken to the mayor.
“He must have gotten wind of what I was going to do today,” Daley joked.
The campaign later made clear though that it had corresponded with CTA chief Forrest Claypool, who has been a vocal opponent of the RTA.
Contributing: Rosalind Rossi