Friday, August 16, 2013

Residency issue, in reverse?

Usually when we hear of residency being an issue in government, it involves those people who have some requirement related to their jobs that they live in the city of Chicago proper – but try to have a more suburban lifestyle.

RAKESTRAW: No longer suburban
We’ve all heard of the enclaves of city workers (with a large percentage of police and firefighters) on the southwest and northwest edges of the city – allowing them to live within blocks of the city limits and suburban communities.

NOT THAT I have anyone choosing to live in a suburb. It’s their life, and if they’re willing to endure the lengthier commute to get into downtown Chicago, so be it.

But it is a reality that makes the current residency controversy on the Metra commuter railroad board all the more ironic.

For in that board’s case, there is a member being asked to resign his post because he is not in compliance with the residency requirement. For the Chicago Tribune has figured out that the board member actually lives not only in Chicago, but is one of those people living in a high-rise that gives him a wonderful view of Millenium Park.

He’s right in the heart of the action.

BUT SINCE HE was given a seat on the Metra board by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, it seems she believes he must have a suburban Cook County home address – even though he believes he merely has to live somewhere within the county (either city or suburb).

For the record, I have never met Stan Rakestraw (the Metra board member in question). He used to be a nursing home administrator, but now operates SCR Medical Transportation, Inc., along with his wife, Pam. I don’t know how good a performance he provided in his service on the board that oversees those commuter trains taking people from the outer suburbs into downtown Chicago (and include some stops in the Far South and Southeast sides of Chicago).

Published reports indicate that Rakestraw got the appointment back at a time when he still had a home address in suburban Flossmoor. Although the Tribune reported that the house was damaged by fire, and his response was to move to a downtown-based condominium.

PRECKWINKLE: Needs a Metra member
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In my wildest fantasies, I wouldn’t mind living that close to the action of urban Chicago. If he can swing it financially, more power to him.

AND HE CERTAINLY isn’t gaining that wealth from the political appointment – the Metra board post only pays $15,000 annually.

But there is the fact that the Metra board was meant to be a suburban dominated entity; as a counterpart to the Chicago Transit Board that oversees the CTA buses and elevated train lines and has a Chicago-dominant board.

In the case of the Metra board, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets one appointment to Preckwinkle’s five – with the understanding that only the mayor gets to pick a city resident. The heads of county government in the five surrounding counties each get one appointment.

Which makes for a 10-1 suburban/city ratio on the Metra board. That may be a bit much (and goes a long way toward explaining why Metra is willing to let its stops in the city deteriorate).

BUT I ALSO comprehend the idea of regulations that ought to be followed. Maybe we ought to consider a change in the composition of these boards? To that end, Gov. Pat Quinn created on Thursday a 15-member commission to study mass transit boards -- one of whose members is former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. A move that had many political cynics pleased.

But until some sort of action is taken, the regulations are going to have to be followed. Which is why Rakestraw peacefully resigned his post Thursday afternoon, instead of putting up a political fight. He does, after all, serve at the pleasure of Preckwinkle, who to her credit asked for Rakestraw’s resignation once the situation was brought to her attention.

Although we all should admit that, relatively speaking, this is a minor infraction by a government appointee. We can only fantasize that this is the worst thing we will see one of our officials commit.


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