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New board members take seats at Metra
Agency back at full strength after Clifford controversy

Monday, October 21, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Richard Wronski

Metra's board of directors is back at full strength for the first time since the controversy that rocked the agency last summer and prompted nearly half the panel to resign.

Taking their seats Friday were newest members Martin Oberman, John Plante, Romayne Brown and Brian Reaves. All bring various backgrounds to Metra:

•Oberman, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appointee, is an attorney and was an independent voice on the City Council for many years.

•Plante, from Wilmette, was named by Cook County commissioners representing the north and west suburbs. He is also an attorney and spent 35 years at the CTA, most recently as senior manager for system safety/emergency preparedness.

•Brown, appointed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, is a retired vice president of rail operations at the CTA. A Dolton resident, Brown has more than 30 years of experience in transportation.

•Reaves, named Thursday by south and southwest Cook County commissioners, is village president of Lemont. He is president and CEO of a material handling and storage company.

The new members, particularly Oberman, immediately jumped into their new roles, peppering Metra staffers with questions about the agency's budget process, personnel practices, diversity training and spending priorities, among other items.

The board also aired long-standing concerns that the commuter rail agency was not getting any portion of funding that is allocated at the discretion of the Regional Transportation Authority. Currently, almost all of that money, along with higher-than-anticipated mass transit tax revenue, is going to the CTA.

A tiny portion goes to Pace, and none to Metra.

"If we don't get a fair share of that discretionary money, this board will be voting on another fare increase," board member Jack Schaffer said. "The next fare increase is on the backs of the RTA's board if they do not correct this situation."

Metra staff also said the agency is fully committed to participating with the CTA and Pace in implementing the new Ventra fare card and that Metra hopes to launch a pilot program by next summer.

Reaves takes the seat that had been held by former Chairman Brad O'Halloran, who was among the five board members who resigned in the wake of the controversy over the ouster of CEO Alex Clifford and the severance package worth potentially as much as $871,000.

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