There had been speculation that the Metra board of directors would amend board bylaws and make moves that would shakeup its leadership. But that was all moot Friday after members of the board said the bylaws change wouldn’t happen and that current interim board Chairman Larry Huggins would remain in place – at least for now.
Board members failed to elect Brad O’Halloran of suburban Orland Park as chairman, which would have taken the seat from Huggins. The 7-4 vote in favor O’Halloran came up one short of the needed eight and, in effect, allowed Huggins to continue at the helm of the board. The bylaws change would have shut future Chicago board members out of holding the chairman position and being a part of board decision-making.
But before board member Jack Schaffer announced to the packed crowd in the commuter rail corporation’s monthly meeting that the board would not vote on the bylaws change because it was “stupid and illegal,” several members of the Chicago City Council and faith and congressional leaders addressed the board and implored board members to do “what’s right.”
“According to what I have heard, there might be some possibility that some members of the board may not have the opportunity to fully participate,”U.S Rep. Danny Davis, D-7th, said referring to the anticipated bylaws change that would have impacted Chicago’s representation on the board and possibly ousted Huggins.“If that be the case, then I would urge the board to make sure that there is equal opportunity…that every member of the board is a full-fledge member with all of the rights and privileges as every other member.”
Huggins was appointed interim chair of the board last year when Carole Doris resigned months after Metra operations director Phil Pagano committed suicide in 2010 following announcement of a state’s attorney probe into his finances. Huggins is one of two African Americans on the 11-member board. Metra board members are appointed by county directors – in Chicago, the mayor appoints – and each member represents a region the rail company services.
Friday’s appeal from Davis was different from the last time the veteran congressman was there to address the board. Earlier this year he was with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, to protest the contract Metra approved for the Englewood Flyover Project in the Englewood community. The congressmen, construction workers, contractors and others converged on the board and told members, including Huggins that the amount of work on the project given to Black contractors and workers was “unacceptable.”
At least one alderman called the anticipated bylaws change and ouster of Huggins racially biased.
Friday, one-by-one aldermen rose to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting to tell Metra board members that changing leadership and amending the bylaws was a no-no.
“We know that the county of Cook is the largest county in the state of Illinois and Chicago is the largest city in the state of Illinois and to just think, for one second, that (the Metra board is) looking to exclude a couple of voices in this state, in this county, in this city to me is preposterous,” said Ald. Anthony Beal (9th), who is chair of the City Council’s transportation committee.
The aldermen who attended represented the South and West Sides. Some southern and western suburbs were also represented with the presence of Davis, a spokeswoman from Rush’s office and state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-33rd Dist.
“I would hate to interpret that Metra didn’t want someone from our area to serve. I wouldn’t want to interpret that we were prohibited in any way from being a functioning body,” said West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th). “I would like to interpret that Metra is willing to work with every part of the city of Chicago and with every part of the state of Illinois.”
Several of the aldermen were also attorneys and said the changes were illegal. Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) called the expected bylaws amendment “against public policy.”
It wasn’t clear who proposed the bylaws change and the issue was not on the meeting agenda. But quickly after the elected officials’ public comments Schaffer quelled their angst and said the bylaws amendment was a non-issue that would not be voted on. The board did, however, vote favorably to have a four-year chairmanship rotation among the six counties Metra serves: Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will and Kane. That will be in effect as soon as they get a permanent chair.
By Rhonda Gillespie