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Patrick Fitzgerald: Transit Agencies Need To Take Politics Out Of Hiring

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 27, 2013 3:40PM

Patrick Fitzgerald (Official Department of Justice Photo)
Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald questioned the ability of the Chicago area’s four transit agencies to take politics out of its hiring practices earlier this week. Fitzgerald, who was appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to head a task force in the wake of allegations by former Metra CEO Alex Clifford that he wouldn’t make patronage hires, made his comments at a meeting of the task force Wednesday.

Fitzgerald based his opinion on responses by CTA, Pace, Metra and the Regional Transportation Authority to 25 detailed questions he sent them on ethical issues. Knowing what we know about CTA and Metra, at the very least, we could have told Fitzgerald there were serious issues there. But it’s nice to have some tangible evidence.

Fitzgerald said in his first meetings with officials from the four transit agencies there should be a “firewall” between hiring employees and elected officials. “There’s not a lot of training on whether people can be hired based on political affiliation,’’ Fitzgerald said. “I have concerns about that.” Clifford, during testimony on his $870,000 buyout package and his patronage hire allegations, claimed he was pressured to give at least one promotion to a Metra employee who was a political worker for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. RTA executive director Joseph Costello told Fitzgerald no records are kept of politicians who call the agency asking for jobs for people they back.

The task force headed by Fitzgerald has been charged by Quinn to find ways to streamline or restructure the area’s public transit agencies and eliminate patronage hires and ethics issues like the ones raised by Clifford’s buyout and his allegations at Metra. The panel is expected to turn in its initial recommendations in mid-October.