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Metra chief suspended during pay review
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Phil Pagano


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/28/2010 2:25 PM | Updated: 4/29/2010 1:39 PM

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Longtime Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano has been temporarily relieved of his duties in the wake of allegations of possible misconduct.

And, the Metra board appears poised to investigate potential "financial irregularities" involving Pagano, the agency said Wednesday.

The board of directors will meet Friday to vote on whether to hire an outside attorney, James G. Sotos, to look into the issue.

Metra Chairman Carole Doris wouldn't discuss a report that Pagano had been given a $56,000 bonus without board approval last summer. His current salary is $269,625.

"I can assure our riders, Illinois taxpayers and state and local government partners that the review will be completed expeditiously, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the integrity and fiscal responsibility of Metra," Doris stated.

Pagano himself had no comment on the inquiry. Instead, he said he intended to speak to the board himself about the issue on Friday.

The allegations come as a small earthquake for Metra, where Pagano has served since its creation in 1984 and took over as executive director in 1990.

"I'm in shock," Metra board member and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said.

Pagano on Tuesday was requested not to conduct Metra business or to come into work, agency spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

He still is receiving his salary.

"I conducted a preliminary review of the matter which convinced me that a thorough review by independent outside counsel is in order," Doris said.

Any questions of financial impropriety come at a bad time for Metra, which recently raised fares on one-way tickets and weekend fares to cover revenue shortfalls.

Along with other transit agencies in the region, Metra has cried poverty as unemployment cuts into its ridership and the state is lagging in payments of sales tax.

"It's a tight year," Metra board member James LaBelle said. "We're just trying to keep operations running as well as they have been. It's not a growth year; it's an austerity year."

The board held off on approving raises for administrators and nonunion staff when it passed its 2010 budget.

Pardonnet said the agency does not allow bonuses.

However, in 2004, Pagano and his deputy executive director both received bonuses with the agency's approval. Pagano's bonus was $40,000 in 2004 and in 2003. At that time, officials said the payments were intended to reward good work without raising base pay.