Metra board takes steps to avoid financial scandals

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

May 26, 2010 3:18:40 PM PDT
Metra says it will have new, stronger oversight of the transit agency's finances. Board members say they will hire watchdogs to monitor all executive salaries and benefits.

It follows a financial misconduct investigation into executive director Phil Pagano, who took his own life.

As Metra is working on trying to find a new executive director, its board is taking steps to avoid any future financial scandals. One move is to hire an inspector general. Until that person is hired, Metra is counting on a familiar name in law enforcement to help out.

Former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard is being tapped by Metra to help investigate fraud and abuse. The move to hire Hillard's security consulting firm at the government discounted rate of $358 an hour comes three weeks after Metra executive director Phil Pagano walked in front of a Metra train as a financial scandal involving him was unfolding. The Metra board is hoping more oversight will encourage employees to come forward.

"There was a perception, even a misperception, but a perception to individuals that they couldn't come forward. There was, you know, one person at the top who controlled the flow of information, that misperception will be addressed," said Carole Doris, Metra board chairman.

While Metra is till trying to figure out how Pagano was able to receive at least $475,000 in unauthorized vacations advances, the board is hoping to avoid any future scandals by hiring an inspector general. Hillard's firm Hillard Heintze will fill in until a permanent IG is hired.

"We've been engaged to investigate and review a number of issues that have come to the attention of the board in the last several weeks. It will be our responsibility to determine if any of these matters justify referral to any outside federal, state or local law enforcement for further insight," said Arnette Heintze, Hillard Heintze.

To receive anonymous tips on suspected fraud or abuse the firm will set up a toll free number and an email for employees.

As for investigating Pagano, Hillard Heintze will leave that up to the feds.

Pagano's note addressed to Metra board director Carole Doris was released Tuesday. In it, he says, "with the exception of in one mistake, I have always done things the honest right way. I hope you believe me." He goes on to say, "on my dying breath, you need to know this, I love Metra. I gave it my all, heart and soul."

"I think it speaks for itself. I don't think there is anything else I can add to it.," said Doris.

In the suicide note, Pagano did not explain what he meant by the one mistake.

Meantime, the RTA announced Wednesday it is conducting it's own in depth audit of Metra executive compensation policies. The RTA will conduct similar reviews of the CTA, Pace and the RTA.


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