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Now, that would’ve been something to see

Monday, Jul 29, 2013 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The RTA deferred action on a little-noticed item at its July 17th meeting which focused primarily on allegations of clout at Metra

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. […]

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.

That really would’ve been something had the RTA actually gone through with the contract at that meeting.

* From a Bill Daley press release…

“The fact is, were it not for the Metra scandal drawing attention to waste in our public transit agencies, the RTA was ready to give a six figure contract to a political insider. It’s just another reason to get rid of the RTA.”

A Daley talking about insider contracts? That’s kinda rich.

* Meanwhile

Metra Board members already have racked up more than a quarter million dollars in legal fees trying to address the mess created by their ex-CEO’s charges that he was subjected to political arm-twisting.

Throw in Alex Clifford’s hefty “separation agreement’’ of up to $718,000; the $75,000 in Clifford’s legal fees, which Metra promised to cover, and $18,000 in “crisis-strategy” fees through June 30 and the taxpayer tab is more than $1 million — and counting, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Who’s getting what

Heavily redacted documents obtained by the Sun-Times under a Freedom of Information Act request and information from a Metra spokesman indicate that as the drama unfolded Metra turned to these firms for help:

† The law firm of Johnston Greene, which represented board members through the crisis.

† The law firm of Laner Muchin, whose attorney, Joe Gagliardo, represented Metra during what Gagliardo described as a 12-hour May 15 mediation and spoke for the board and Metra at public hearings.

† Former Downstate U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, a partner and an associcate — all at Hinshaw & Culbertson — asked by the Metra Board to investigate Clifford’s allegations of patronage pressure. So far, Metra officials say, Heaton has found nothing illegal.

† Dennis Culloton and the public relations/crisis strategy firm Culloton Strategies, which has been billing for work since April 9.

Early on, the Metra Board turned to Culloton, a former spokesman for Gov. George Ryan, even though Metra has an ongoing $500,000 contract through February 2015 with Mack Communications for “media relations” in “crisis situations,” as well as its own full-time media relations staff.

Heaton was a George W. Bush appointee. Mack Communications also works for Kirk Dillard’s campaign. The other guys appear to be Democrats.

* The transit agencies have always been political entitites. Pat Durante, a Republican township committeeman in DuPage, sits on the RTA board. So does Al Jourdan, the former McHenry County Republican Party Chairman. Don Totten, who used to run the Schaumburg Township GOP, is an RTA member.

Over on Metra, there’s Jack Schaffer, a former GOP state Senator from McHenry County. Metra board member Arlene Mulder is the former mayor of Arlington Heights, and Bill Widmer is a prominent labor attorney. And etc.


  1. - Been There - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 11:51 am:

    ===A Daley talking about insider contracts? That’s kinda rich===
    Pun intended?

  2. - Raymond - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 12:00 pm:

    === even though Metra has an ongoing $500,000 contract through February 2015 with Mack Communications ===

    That’s quite a fee for PR services (it could almost make Dan Webb blush). I’d be interested in knowing the full term of that contract; if it started this spring - so, $250,000 a year - that’s astonishing.

  3. - James the Intolerant - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 12:12 pm:

    I think if Daley plays the good government type it can’t do anything but back-fire on him at some point.

  4. - N'ville - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    $500,000 to Dillard’s PR machine…that’s 3,053 monthly metra passes, or 86,957 single rides, for his constituents in Naperville…

  5. - Amalia - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 12:25 pm:

    note to the BGA, agency by agency, elected jurisdiction by elected jurisdiction, PR contract list and budgeted positions for the same thing.

  6. - Shore - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 12:32 pm:

    been there-that was my thought, well played.

  7. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 1:48 pm:

    I can’t decide who’s the biggest “outsider” — Daley or Rauner?

  8. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 3:49 pm:

    Anybody else like to hear Brown’s definition of “competitive bidding?”

  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 4:52 pm:

    Why did Metra bring on Ryan’s old guy Culloton if they already had Edgar’s old guy Mack on contract for the same stuff?

    Is every mess an opportunity for someone to belly up to the trough? Mack’s working for Metra, and Dillard wants to cashier the entire Metra board. Sure.

    Speaking of which, just how is a lobbying and campaign group like Compass going “to develop a suicide-awareness and prevention program aimed at reducing the number of suicides involving commuter trains….”

    Really? What are they going to do? Send Noonan and Victor Reyes out roaming the tracks and tackling the overwrought before they jump in front of a train?

    Geez, is even suicide-by-train an excuse to belly up to the trough?

  10. - Just Me - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 5:09 pm:

    Yes, I’m sure the RTA went through the normal bidding process and seriously considered all the bids and decided that the Speaker’s BFF was the best candidate, just like they went through the normal hiring process when they decided to hire a member of the Speaker’s family.

  11. - Just Me - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 6:12 pm:

    It might be worth noting that “PR” can include some appropriate expenses, like managing a website and printing brochures and stuff, so before complaining about the size of the contract, I would like to know its scope too.

  12. - Samurai - Monday, Jul 29, 13 @ 11:52 pm:

    ==Over on Metra, there’s Jack Schaffer … Arlene Mulder ….==

    Where old Pols go to keep their snouts firmly implanted in the Gov’t trough.

  13. - Regional get rich authority - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 8:38 am:

    @ wordslinger - Yes - I can just imagine Noonan and Reyes taking calls on a suicide prevention hotline..

  14. - Just Me - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 3:31 am:

    And I’m sure the fact that it is a non-campaign year had NOTHING to do with the Speaker’s son-in-law deciding that now was the perfect time to hire a PR firm to do a publicity campaign, and that the best firm to do that campaign was the Speaker’s BFF.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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