With former Metra CEO Alex Clifford teeing off on him, the Regional Transportation Authority’s marathon July 17 board meeting wasn’t a great day for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
In testimony to the RTA about his high-priced departure from Metra, Clifford accused Madigan of pressuring him through a lobbyist to give one Metra employee a raise and to give another one a promotion. He said the powerful Southwest Side Democrat had exhibited “a moral and ethical . . . character flaw” in doing so.
At that same meeting, the RTA had been set to award a consulting contract for as much as $120,000 to Compass Public Affairs LLC, a politically connected Chicago firm whose owners include Mike Noonan, a former top legislative aide to Madigan. In his bio on his firm’s website, Noonan also boasts of his campaign work for the speaker’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, saying he is “proud of his job as Lisa Madigan’s campaign manager, helping Lisa become the first female Illinois attorney general.”
Despite the RTA staff having recommended hiring Compass to develop a suicide-awareness and prevention program aimed at reducing the number of suicides involving commuter trains, chairman John Gates Jr. pulled the contract from the RTA board’s July 17 agenda days before the meeting. He says the delay was over concerns about the contract and that it had “nothing to do with the speaker.”
“We believe it deserved much more thorough consideration and benchmarking against similar programs in other jurisdictions,” says Gates, whose agency employs Michael Madigan’s son-in-law Jordan Matyas as a top administrator.
Joe Costello, the RTA’s executive director, says clout also wasn’t a factor in recommending that Compass be given the contract.
“It’s on the merits,” says Costello.
Steve Brown, spokesman for the speaker, echoes that, noting that the RTA chose Compass after going through competitive bidding.
The RTA is the government agency with financial oversight of the Chicago area’s three mass transit agencies — the CTA, Metra and Pace — and relies heavily on state funding.
The proposed suicide-prevention campaign would include posters and possibly a hotline and was to involve Compass working with a mental health group. Its primary aim is to keep people from stepping in front of a train — as Phil Pagano, Clifford’s predecessor at Metra’s chief executive officer, did in 2010, committing suicide in McHenry County as he was under investigation for embezzling money from his agency.
There have been 11 deaths this year involving Metra commuter trains: nine believed to be suicides and two accidental, says Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. In 2012, of 29 deaths involving Metra trains, “Sixteen were apparently intentional or intentional, 10 were accidents, and three were not clear,” Gillis says.
There have been two suicides this year involving CTA trains, seven last year and eight in 2011, according to CTA spokesman Brian Steele, who says “suicides on CTA are very rare and represent an extremely small percentage of CTA’s more than 200 million annual rail rides.”
Steele says a bigger problem for the CTA is riders messing around on L or subway platforms and falling onto the tracks or intentionally stepping onto the tracks to retrieve fallen items. The CTA plans to launch its own “informational campaign . . . aimed at reminding customers of the importance of safety on platforms and around trains,” he says.
Besides Noonan, Compass is owned by Victor Reyes, onetime City Hall patronage boss under former Mayor Richard M. Daley; and political and marketing consultant Maze Jackson.
Noonan says the firm’s work speaks for itself. “I don’t think anyone has ever accused us of not doing a good job,” he says.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth, who can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9030.