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New Metra Boss Lays Out Reform Plan

A Metra Commuter Train (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

A Metra Commuter Train (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) – After less than a month on the job, Metra’s new executive director Friday laid out an action plan to make changes and root out fraud at the commuter rail agency.

“I will push these reforms and others down through the organization,” Executive Director Alex Clifford told the Metra board at a special meeting. “Most importantly, senior management must lead by example.”

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Clifford made it clear that this is only the first wave of changes he intends to bring to Metra, which operated for 20 years under its previous executive director, the late Philip Pagano, who committed suicide nearly 10 months ago.

Clifford said he wants to tie pay raises for non-union employees to performance, monitor the use of overtime and take-home cars more closely, set hiring and promotion policies and stick to them, assure consistent discipline and make it clear that there will be “zero tolerance” for fraud and abuse.”

He said he also wants to upgrade Metra’s aging tech infrastructure, much of which is still reliant on antiquated mainframe computers.

He called for a committee to craft a revised employee handbook for non-contract Metra employees.

Overtime will get scrutiny in several ways. Clifford has ordered an analysis of the ways in which overtime has been used to determine if Metra would be better off hiring additional employees to minimize overtime pay. He wants closer scrutiny of pay records by managers, especially when timekeeping has been done manually. And he wants a comprehensive review of Metra’s police department, including its organizational structure, responsibilities and external security contracts.

Clifford personally wants to review and approve any rehiring of dismissed Metra employees.

To continue to guide the process, Clifford sought and received board permission to negotiate a no-bid contract with the auditing firm of Blackman Kallick, which has recommended many of the changes. The firm has said it needs more time to complete a risk management proposal.

The new executive director has a number of top-level vacancies to fill. He said he hopes to move quickly to fill the posts, which include chief of staff, executive secretary, general counsel and his chief finance, capital planning, legislative and labor relations officers, filling some of the posts in as little as a month.