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State Senator Slams Metra Leadership

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Metra locomotive (CBS File Photo)

Metra locomotive (CBS File Photo)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) slammed Metra in a letter, as he withdrew his name from consideration as executive director of the commuter train agency.

Sandoval, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, took his name out of consideration in a letter, dated Monday, that accused the Metra board of directors of being “either complicit or grossly negligent in the improper activities of Metra’s leadership team,” and said he no longer wished to be considered by a board he considers to be “tainted.”

The breaking point for Sandoval appeared to be over legislation, passed last week by the Illinois Senate and awaiting action in the House, that would give the state’s top watchdog, its executive inspector general, the power to investigate the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, CTA and Pace.

“I am taken aback by the utter disregard displayed by Metra leadership on this critical step in restoring public confidence in this disgraced agency,” he wrote in his letter to Metra Chairman Carole Doris, withdrawing his name from consideration.

Doris responded Tuesday with a letter in which she denied that Metra opposed the legislation and said she was “shocked” by the “tone and spurious charges” leveled by Sandoval. Doris goes on to say in her letter that Sandoval probably would not have made the final cut in Metra’s search for a new leader.

“Clearly, the public is demanding that a rail transportation professional take the reins of Metra to help restore confidence in our operation,” she wrote.

Doris asked Sandoval in the letter to recuse himself from any future vote or participating in legislation affecting Metra “given your conflict of interest.”

The executive director position has been vacant since Phil Pagano stepped in front of Metra train and committed suicide in June.

The Metra board set up its own internal office of inspector general amid criticism that it had been asleep at the switch while allowing a growing series of irregularities that ended in Pagano’s suicide, hours before he would have been fired.

State Rep. Susan Garrett (D-Ill.) was dissatisfied with those efforts, and insisted that someone other than the agencies’ boards choose an inspector general.

The problems at Metra stem back to when Pagano was disgraced earlier this year, upon the discovery that he improperly took $475,000 in vacation pay over the course of 11 years after forging Doris’ signature.

Doris has said repeatedly, and reiterated in the letter to Sandoval, that the Metra board has taken a series of steps to try to assure that nothing similar can happen again.

“I regret that you feel otherwise,” she wrote.

Metra has received dozens of resumes from potential candidates to succeed Pagano; among them is acting Metra Executive Director Bill Tupper. Metra hired Slavin Management Consultants to coordinate the search effort and Doris indicated that the board soon will interview the finalists.

WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts and the Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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