Metra chair: Keep a public log of politicians pushing hires

The next time politicians try to wield their clout to land someone a job at Metra, it shouldn’t take a full-blown scandal to find out about it.

Metra Chairman Martin Oberman said he’ll ask the board of the commuter rail service Friday to create a log of third-party job recommendations — meaning anyone not a Metra employee or board member making a pitch for a job candidate — that could be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The log would also include requests for firings discipline, promotions or any other personnel related moves.

Last year, ex-Metra CEO Alex Clifford kicked up a firestorm by contending two board members wanted to oust him because he would not “play ball” on patronage and contracts. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was among those who had made job-related requests, Clifford said. Madigan asked Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer to investigate those claims.

Oberman’s proposal follows a recommendation made by Gov. Pat Quinn’s transit task force earlier this year in a report that accused Madigan of “in effect” deciding for years if some job candidates were hired at Metra.

“Now if anybody, any outside person, makes a job recommendation to the board or to anybody at Metra, the Metra person must, within 48 hours, log it,” Oberman said Wednesday to the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times.

That log entry would include the date and time of the “employment related communication,” the identities of the person making the communication and the subject, and a summary of what was said.

However, a draft of the proposed ordinance exempts people providing references or recommendations upon Metra’s request “in the ordinary course of reviewing applicants for employment.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who made Oberman his lone appointee to the Metra board, was asked how he feels about the reforms tailor-made to expose politicians who try to clout candidates into Metra jobs.

“This is the first I’m hearing of it, but I’m all for that. One of the reasons I appointed Marty was to clean up Metra and bring a sense of reform and public-spirited mission” to the job, the mayor said.

“I’m proud. Whatever changes he’s made, I fully stand behind in the sense of transparency because Metra needs to do that.”

Quinn’s task force noted the University of Illinois board of trustees implemented a “firewall” policy around admissions after a patronage scandal there. It allowed only college applicants, their parents or guardians or spouses, and their guidance counselors to communicate with the admissions staff.

Violations of that policy were to be logged, according to the report. It recommended Metra take a similar approach.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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