CHICAGO | A task force asked to scrutinize metropolitan Chicago's transit agencies said it found evidence that House Speaker Michael Madigan directed Metra to hire and promote certain candidates, contributing to an environment in which corruption and mismanagement could flourish.
Madigan told reporters in Springfield on Tuesday that he had not had a chance to read the task force's report since its release Monday and declined to give a detailed response. Separately, Madigan's spokesman dismissed the report as "amateurish" and said the claims pertain to things that allegedly happened so long ago that Madigan couldn't be expected to recall if any were true.
Gov. Pat Quinn created the panel in August to come up with recommendations for overhauling the Chicago-area transit system after the former CEO of Metra said he was forced from his job at the commuter rail agency for resisting political interference, including from Madigan. Among the panel's 15 members were Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and Patrick Fitzgerald, the former head of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.
The group's final report recommended a consolidation of the Chicago area's transit agencies and governing boards to foster coordination and a better focus on system-wide priorities like expansion. But at the core of the report is a section describing ethical lapses that led to several major corruption scandals and worsened a situation already made bad by financial crises and declining ridership.
"One scandal after another has plagued the transit agencies," the review said in its preface. "Reports emerged of patronage, financial impropriety, hidden conflicts of interest and inappropriate influence over contracts."
In a new finding, the task force said it learned of documents from roughly 1983 to 1991 that detail the practice of political patronage at Metra. The material included boxes containing 800 index cards on people who were referred for jobs, promotions and raises by public officials.
The report said many public figures participated but that Madigan, who has been speaker since 1983, figured prominently.
"The records, fairly read, show that in some cases he did not recommend people to be hired - he in effect decided they were hired," it said of the speaker.
It concluded Madigan and an attorney acting on his behalf recommended 26 people for jobs, promotions and raises at Metra.
In one case referenced in a footnote, the task force said Metra appeared to have decided to hire a "high priority" Madigan job candidate even before it was able to contact him for an interview.
The agency had trouble tracking him down because he had a disconnected phone number and sent him a letter asking him to contact Metra. Nonetheless, a note in his file said he would be positioned at a Metra facility "as soon as he calls and we can get him in for (an) interview."
In another instance the speaker included a cover letter whose tone, the report said, showed how perfunctory the requests had become. It referenced a "list of individuals for the five summer jobs from (the speaker) for the Blue Island yard."
Madigan declined to comment on any of those details Tuesday when asked about them in Springfield, where he was presenting a constitutional amendment to strengthen voting rights.
"I haven't had a chance to read it because I have been busy on this constitutional amendment," he said. "But we plan to work cooperatively with chairman Al Riley of the House Mass transit Committee on any recommendations concerning mass transit."
His spokesman, Steve Brown, called that element of the report amateurish and referred to the claims regarding Madigan as "unverified information." He would not say whether Madigan denied they were true.
"It's 25 or 30 years ago," Brown said. "I don't know that anyone could have a recollection of did they ask if somebody could get a summer job or not cleaning passenger cars. It's silly."
A Metra spokesman declined to comment beyond saying the agency was reviewing the report.
The task force's recommended overhaul, which touches on ethics, governance, finance and system performance, now goes before the Legislature, where it would require lawmaker approval.
The suggestions include setting up "a firewall" prohibiting communications between elected officials and the transit agencies on hiring and other personnel decisions.
Associated Press writer Kerry Lester contributed to this report from Springfield.