What the future holds for CTA leadership, post-Daley

Richard Rodriguez

Now that we’ve had a few days to grasp the enormity of Mayor Daley’s stunning announcement that he will not be seeking re-election in 2011, our thoughts turn to what his leaving means to the CTA.

My assessment: Very hard to tell.
First, let’s free your minds of any notion that CTA Board Chairman Terry Petersen will run for mayor. 
Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. There are too many other better-known and better-funded African-Americans out there, such as the dynamic duo – the Jackson couple. And I would put former CTA Board Chair Valerie Jarrett ahead of Petersen on that list. And she probably won’t run either.
Then there’s CTA President Richard Rodriguez. And no, I don’t think he’s running for mayor. However, there is the question of how long he might keep his job after a new mayor takes over.
Personally, I think he’s been doing a decent enough job that he wouldn’t have a target on his back right after the election. Unlike, say, Police Supt. Jody Weis. (Sorry, no pun intended.)
But eventually, I would expect a new mayor to name his own guy or gal to lead the nation’s second largest transit system. That’s only natural. Some people around here think that person should have more transit experience than the last two or three presidents. While that would be nice, I think the biggest qualification is solid experience in running a huge agency and dealing in a political environment.

What do you think?


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  • It's a great question, Kevin. The trick is to get somebody with the perfect combination of three critical qualities:

    1) Good understanding of transit systems and the CTA in particular. This is what Rodriguez was missing when he was hired, and it would definitely be useful for somebody to come in who could hit the ground running and work to make the system better for riders. I'd love to see a President who takes lessons from other systems around the country/world to improve the CTA.

    2) Good management skills. Running such a large, bureaucratic organization is very, very difficult, so it's critical that the President can ensure it runs smoothly and efficiently. The President has to be able to choose good deputies in the senior management, cooperate with / stand up to the union, and (most importantly) spot problems early / fix them when they arise. This quality is why I think Huberman and Rodriguez were chosen.

    3) Strong political skills. Since the CTA is ultimately controlled / funded by politicians in Chicago and Springfield, the President needs to have some ability to get along with elected officials and successfully lobby for funds and policy changes. Obviously, the RTA and the CTA board play a larger role here, but it definitely helps if the CTA President is someone that politicians are happy with and can justify supporting.

    So now, who fits the bill?

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    If you note my comment below, this, including any role of the RTA, is the wrong bill, and part of the current problem.

  • In reply to jack:

    I take it you're objecting to my third qualification. But I don't think you're being realistic. In a world of cash-starved government agencies, it would be stupid and dangerous for the mayor / board / whoever to not consider political ability (or at least political palatability) in appointing a CTA president.

    If you're objection is that the president should be appointed by the board instead of the mayor, I have no issue there. And I agree that transit experience and "running the CTA like a business" are important (see points 1 and 2).

    But I don't see much that is constructive in your criticisms. Ok, let's "blow up the current transit structure - what would you replace it with?

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    I have said it many times before, but since you appear new here, I'll repeat.

    There is no need for 4 transit boards, totaling 47 members (16 RTA, 13 Pace, 11 Metra, and 7 CTA), each pulling down $15,000 or $25,000 a year for doing essentially nothing --as is well documented in the cases of the CTA, Metra (couldn't stop Pagano) and RTA (can't do anything about service integration) boards.

    The Board of the New York MTA consists of 17 members that handle all bus, subway, rail, tunnels and bridges in a multi-county area. Only 4 are recommended by the Mayor of New York. While New York has problems, I haven't heard of the rampant inefficiency and corruption there that you have here.

    It seems like instead of taking the best practices of other areas, "reform" in Illinois is packing in more do nothing payrollers. I wonder what was accomplished by giving Todd Stroger the ability to appoint a preacher to the RTA and Metra boards, except to offset underapportionment to some of the collar counties.

    If nothing else, the boards should go back to the theory of the Illinois MTA Act that their members be "persons of recognized business ability," and the Executive Director be as described in my post below. The CTA board is certainly not that now (if this list is correct, only Silva qualifies, and maybe Peterson through his connection with Rush). Of course we have to blame Illinois politicians, Daley and Quinn for their appointments, and the legislature for abetting this mess.

  • In reply to jack:

    That sounds great, but I feel like you're focusing way too much attention here. Cutting the board to 17 members saves $750K (using your numbers). If the CTA did that, the 2010 budget deficit would have dropped to $94.8mm...not exactly a huge improvement.

    I'm all for cutting waste/corruption on the CTA/RTA/Metra boards, but the fact is that without any political clout, the agencies won't get the money they need to survive.

    I'd also add that the CTA president needs backing from politicians to stand up to the bus/train drivers union. Unless the CTA can get it's labor costs under control (which requires politicians to support a hard-line stance), the agency will never be able to gain control of its budget problems.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    It isn't just the salaries. It is that the structure is only for political reasons,* and fosters the type of inefficiencies, infighting, duplication of service, and corruption found here, without the boards taking any responsibility.

    Your focus on the CTA President's political skills only indicates that the Board is not doing its duty in this regard either. At least Carole Brown took some responsibility for her "funding campaign." It sure than hell was not Kruesi's obligation, and, as it turned out, Madigan found that Kruesi was an impediment to it.

    Apparently, Kevin, you, most of the politicians in this state, and pretty much anyone else who supports the current structure fail to recognize the essential distinction I mentioned in response to glg: The board is to exercise authority over the policy and executive officers of the agency, while the executive officers are to implement that policy. Instead, here the Mayor dictates policy to the "President," and the Board says "yes sir," and "we're delighted with the Mayor's recommendation." That's not the way it is supposed to work.

    *Daley won't give up control of CTA; because of that suburbanites don't want the CTA to have anything with them, and have created their own patronage organizations, Pace and Metra; and the RTA has so many supermajority prerequisites, because of that political situation, that it can't get anything done.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    The Board should also be the one that sets labor policy, not the Mayor through the President. As a matter of fact, as proven in the unsuccessful request for givebacks in the beginning of this year, the CTA President has little power in this regard, given the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and agreements that contract issues are subject to arbitration. So, this is another red herring.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    It is ridiculous to have four boards. I ought to be able to take the bus to a Metra station, take the train to a suburb, get on a Pace bus and go somewhere and use the same transit card to pay for all of that.

  • Since Daley joked yesterday that he would make a great candidate for mayor, perhaps RonH will run the CTA, CPS and CPD from a data bubble command module on the fifth floor of City Hall. It's all about the efficiencies in these hard times, ya know.

  • The real problem is your saying "I would expect a new mayor to name his own guy or gal to lead the nation's second largest transit system. That's only natural."

    I mentioned the problem in the other ChicagoNow transit blog, which was also essentially pushing anyone associated with the CTA as the next mayor, including Peterson. In effect, Richard II was the first mayor to make the CTA his personal fiefdom by dictating who the next "President" would be. Not even his father did that to the extent of not recognizing someone with transit experience, nor one recognizing that the CTA should be run as a business.

    The Metropolitan Transit Act says:

    "(70 ILCS 3605/27) (from Ch. 111 2/3, par. 327)
    Sec. 27. The Board may appoint an Executive Director who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board."

    The MTA does not say that a rubber stamp board shall acquiesce in a Mayor's appointment.

    I'm surprised that no one has challenged these illegal appointments, but maybe nobody has legal standing to do so.

    Of course, as we all know, Kruesi was the only one who technically met the resume qualification, and he turned out to be the most incompetent person in that role.

    That, along with the do nothing RTA and overt corruption at Metra indicate that the whole structure of transit agencies in this area should be blown up, not cheerleading the next mayor to force his stooge on the puppet CTA Board.

  • Maybe Ron H can run for mayor and appoint Daley to run the CTA.

  • Formally o.k. However I contend that they are illegal because the appointees do not meet the qualifications stated in the Act, neither the Board nor the Executive Director ("President").

    As far as a matter of policy, the board just doing the Mayor's bidding is bad policy. Boards are also expected to be responsible for the policy of the agency and for the executive officers appointed by them. The CTA and Metra boards are not, as a matter of fact, and again, I contend, are guilty of malfeasance, including in the legal sense.

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