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Another Metra board member leaving under cloud

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Troubled Metra apparently is losing another board member.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today asked for the resignation of Stanley Rakestraw, a suburban paratransit official whom she named to the Metra board in 2012.

"When Stan Rakestraw applied for the position, he listed a Flossmoor address," in southern Cook County, Ms. Preckwinkle said in a statement released by her office. "Since he no longer resides in suburban Cook County, he is ineligible to serve as my appointment on Metra. As soon as I was notified of this fact I requested Stan Rakestraw's resignation."

There was no immediate indication that Mr. Rakestraw has submitted a resignation letter, but a spokeswoman for Ms. Preckwinkle says Mr. Rakestraw told the president he would do so.

Mr. Rakestraw is president and CEO of  a paratransit company serving the disabled that is a major provider to Pace, a sister public transit agency of Metra's. According to Pace, the firm was paid $39.7 million just in the last year by the agency.

As a contractor for PACE, SCR is the primary paratransit provider for the southern third of the city of Chicago. The firm also has contracts with Cook County taking some patients to and from Stroger Hospital.

On Metra, there is no sign that I could find that he voted on items that directly impacted Pace. Jack Partelow, the agency's acting chairman, told me yesterday that he did not see any sign of a conflict of interest.

But another Metra commissioner, Jack Schaffer, told me it did not look good, given the swarm of ethical controversy in which the agency has found itself since its CEO and executive director, Alex Clifford, was forced out amid charges that he'd been pressured to grant patronage to top politicians and received a $714,000 "departure settlement" that some considered hush money.

"My gut is that it's not a legal conflict of interest," Mr. Schaffer said. "But it comes very close to presenting an appearance of a conflict of interest, which in this environment isn't very good."

Mr. Rakestraw was the subect of a Better Government Association probe that noted his significant campaign contributions to Ms. Preckwinkle.

Ms. Preckwinkle's spokeswoman, Kristen Mack, said she did not know if Mr. Rakestraw's work for Pace was a reason behind the request for his resignation.

If Mr. Rakestraw goes, Metra will be down to six members on what is supposed to be an 11-member board. By law, Ms. Preckwinkle's Metra appointee is supposed to represent suburban Cook County.

Mr. Rakestraw did not return calls seeking comment



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