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Mulder will leave Metra when term ends in June

Thursday, September 12, 2013
Daily Herald
by Marni Pyke

Former Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder says she will leave the embattled Metra board when her term ends next June.

Mulder had been mentioned as a potential contender to chair the Metra board and earlier had resisted calls for board members to step down after a scandal engulfed the agency's leadership over the summer.

On Wednesday, Evanston attorney William Widmer also said he wants to leave the Metra board as soon as a replacement can be named. His term already has expired.

And former state Sen. Jack Schaffer of Cary also plans to leave the Metra board when his term is up in June.

All but three of the 11 Metra directors in place at the time the scandal broke have left or announced their intention to do so.

The board has been under fire since June when officials approved a controversial up-to $718,000 separation agreement with former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who has accused former Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins of misconduct and condoning political patronage.

Huggins and O'Halloran have denied any wrongdoing, but the scandal has provoked two state inspectors general to investigate and prompted calls from some lawmakers and others for the entire board to step down.

"I've done nothing wrong and I'm very proud of my service," Mulder said. "I love Metra and will continue to use and support it."

She noted she's served on the Metra board since 2005 and was making several lifestyle changes after retiring as the longtime Arlington Heights leader earlier this year.

More Metra furor erupted in August when an RTA audit indicated the board could have used an insurance policy to handle potential litigation from Clifford, saving most of the cost of the severance package. Directors said they were told the separation agreement was the only option aside from a lawsuit that could have cost up to $3 million.

Mulder said she was not aware of the insurance option. "I'm so used to local government where everyone gets a packet with all the information. ... It's a really important component when you're voting to know all the options."

This summer, five directors — including Huggins and O'Halloran — resigned, leaving the board with its minimum quorum of six. That number is up to eight after appointments by DuPage and Kane counties.

In August, a group of suburban Cook County commissioners called on Mulder, Widmer and South Holland Village President Don De Graff — the Metra directors representing suburban Cook County — to resign.

Meanwhile, although picking board members is usually done behind closed doors, the public will be able to vet Widmer's replacement, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said. Interested candidates are invited to submit names and qualifications by midnight Sept. 25 and later undergo an interview during an Oct. 1 open meeting of Cook County commissioners.

Widmer, whose term expired in 2012, did not wish to be appointed, Suffredin said, but he will continue until a successor is chosen.

The intent is to increase transparency, said Suffredin, who will have the greatest say in Widmer's replacement because of a complicated formula giving a weighted vote to six county commissioners who reside within the suburban townships Widmer's Metra district represents.

State law gives District 13's Suffredin 38.3 percent of the vote, followed by the 9th District's Peter Silvestri with 23.7 percent; the 14th District's Gregg Goslin with 15.5 percent; the 17th District's Liz Doody Gorman with 10.24 percent; the 1st District's Earlean Collins with 7.55 percent; and the 16th District's Jeffrey Tobolski with 4.7 percent.

Would-be directors must reside in Evanston, Leyden, New Trier, Niles, Norwood Park, Maine, Oak Park or Riverside Townships. Candidates should offer a detailed explanation of their transit experience and work history, plus be willing to undertake a background check.

Metra: Five directors resigned this summer

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