CHICAGO — For years, state Rep. Luis Arroyo has pushed for Metra to diversify its work force by hiring more Latinos.
The Chicago Democrat put it this way in a 2007 letter to the commuter rail agency’s then-executive director, the late Phil Pagano, saying he wanted “a commitment from Metra to help us achieve the goal of equal and fair representation for Latinos within all ranks of employment.”
One thing definitely has changed since then: Two people with close ties to Arroyo — who was then vice chairman of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee, which helps regulate Metra, Pace and the CTA, and since early this year has been its chairman — have landed on the Metra payroll.
The Illinois legislator’s daughter Denise Arroyo — hired in late 2008 at $58,000 a year — is a program administrator for Metra in emergency preparedness, now paid $66,000 annually, records show.
And his son’s girlfriend is also on the transit agency payroll. Hired last September, Liza Dominguez is a $39,000-a-year receptionist in human resources.
Arroyo says he didn’t ask Pagano or anyone else to hire them or other “constituents” he says he has helped direct to Metra and who have been hired by the agency in recent years.
“I want more jobs for my community,” Arroyo says.
But he says he hasn’t sought and doesn’t want preferential treatment for anyone.
Instead, he says that when he hears of a job at Metra, the CTA or elsewhere, he tries to spread the word to his constituents, often by posting the information on his office bulletin board, and encouraging them to apply through the normal channels.
Pagano — who killed himself in May by stepping in front of a Metra train as investigators bore down on him over a host of alleged financial improprieties involving agency funds — made a $200 campaign contribution early this year to Arroyo’s political organization, for which Denise Arroyo, 30, serves as treasurer, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
Arroyo says that came at a fund-raiser Pagano attended.
He now says he’s giving the $200 to charity and won’t take any money in the future from officials of the transit agencies he helps oversee.
Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet says she doesn’t know how Denise Arroyo came to Pagano’s attention but that he helped her by asking the transit agency’s human resources chief to look at her credentials and see if there was a good fit for her.
Denise Arroyo — who previously worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Cook County Circuit Court — didn’t respond to a request for comment. Dominguez declined to comment.