Metra Chair: Firm should temporarily act as chief audit officer

By Rosalind Rossi – Chicago Sun-Times – August 25, 2014 at 7:22 p.m.

After two unsuccessful candidate searches, the Metra board is expected to hire an experienced public sector auditing firm for up to $330,000 to temporarily assume the new “reform” role of chief audit officer and other tasks.

A search by Metra’s human resources department, as well as one by professional search firm Krauthamer & Associates, so far has failed to uncover “the right person” for a job board members feel is crucial to Metra’s reform efforts, Metra Board chairman Martin Oberman said Monday.

Of the final round of seven or eight candidates interviewed by board members since April, some turned out to be “not interested;” others did not have the right “credentials” or “seasoning,” Oberman said.

“I’ve seen the candidates. They are not bad people. They are just not the right person for the job,” Oberman said. “This is a very senior position. You want them to have respect in the organization. You don’t just hire someone with an accounting degree after their name…. We’re looking for somebody with stature and character.”

As a result, board members want to hire the Bronner Group, a national public sector consultant with Chicago headquarters, to temporarily manage Metra’s internal audit department and take over the functions of the chief audit officer, Oberman said. The Bronner group also has consulted for the CTA, the Regional Transportation Authority and the Illinois Department of Transportation, its website indicates.

Metra CEO Don Orseno originally hired the group in July for $87,700 to assess the audit department during its chief audit officer search.  Board members were so impressed with its “first-rate” work and Bronner CEO Gila Bronner that they are expected to expand the consultant’s duties and up its maximum payment to $330,000 over 12 months at their next meeting, Oberman said.

The Bronner Group will be assessing and managing Metra’s internal auditing team; recommending training of personnel; and helping Metra develop an internal audit plan, Metra officials said.

Although the $330,000 is more than Metra CEO Orseno’s $262,500 annual salary, Oberman said several Bronner employees will be helping Metra and the group’s total tab will not put the audit department — where some jobs are sitting vacant — over its budget.

Metra’s former chief audit and compliance officer — who reported solely to the previous board chairman — resigned his $153,000 annual post following last June’s controversial buyout of former CEO Alex Clifford. As a reform move, new board members later created the chief audit officer position, reportable to both the CEO and the entire board.

State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) Monday called it “astounding” that the Metra Board has yet to find a chief audit officer, given the current economy. He questioned why the auditing function could not be overseen by the kind of “super-agency’’ — composed of the CTA, Metra and Pace — recommended earlier this year by a gubenatorial taskforce.

However, Oberman said each transit agency has different needs, and “I hope people will seize on this decision and say `Finally, Metra is organizing itself along the lines of a major corporation.’ This is a major step in that direction.’’

Also Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a mass transit reform law created in the wake of Clifford’s buyout, worth up to $871,000. Under the law, each transit board as well as House and Senate committees would have to review any employee contract exceeding $100,000, any large separation agreement or settlement, and any employee bonus of more than 10 percent.

The law — sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and State Rep Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) — also creates an online portal where the public can access names of transit employees as well as details about contracts, expenditures and accidents. It is effective Jan. 1, 2015.

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