Metra board member Stanley Rakestraw has been asked to resign, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's office said late Wednesday, following inquiries by the Tribune about Rakestraw's eligibility and residency.
State law requires that Preckwinkle's appointee to Metra live in suburban Cook County, but Tribune reporting determined that Rakestraw lives in a luxury condo in Chicago.
It was not known late Wednesday whether Rakestraw, a longtime supporter and campaign contributor to Preckwinkle, had resigned. But when the newspaper made inquiries to Metra and Preckwinkle regarding his residency, Preckwinkle confirmed that he is not eligible to be on the board because he does not live in suburban Cook County.
In a statement Wednesday, Preckwinkle said that when Rakestraw applied for the Metra post, he listed a Flossmoor address.
But "since he no longer resides in suburban Cook County, he is ineligible to serve as my appointment on Metra. As soon as I was notified of this fact, I requested Stan Rakestraw's resignation," she said.
Tribune reporting shows that Rakestraw had moved from south suburban Flossmoor two years ago this week after his upscale home on Cambridge Avenue was destroyed in a fire.
After the blaze, Rakestraw moved to a million-dollar condominium in a high-rise across from Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. But Rakestraw continued to list the posh suburb as his residence, including on the ethics statement he filed earlier this year with the Cook County clerk's office.
Records show that Preckwinkle appointed Rakestraw to the $15,000-a-year post on Jan. 18, 2012, five months after he left his damaged home in Flossmoor.
Reached Wednesday by the Tribune, Rakestraw confirmed he lived in Chicago but said he did not believe his move to the city precluded him from being on Metra's board. He said he requested an opinion from Metra's board counsel, the law firm Johnston Greene LLC, and was told that he was permitted to live anywhere in Cook County.
"My information was that my position covered all of Cook County," Rakestraw said. "It didn't have to (represent) a specific area. That was my understanding."
Andrew Greene, the Metra board's outside counsel, did not return calls or emails Wednesday. A Metra spokesman said he was unable to comment on a board matter.
This is the second time in recent weeks that a Preckwinkle transit board appointee has run into trouble.
The Rev. Tyrone Crider Sr., a Morgan Park pastor Preckwinkle reappointed to the Regional Transportation Authority board in February, resigned July 31 after it was disclosed that he had failed to repay a $91,000 state social services grant, as ordered by a Circuit Court judge.
Rakestraw is co-founder, vice president and chief operating officer of SCR Medical Transportation. The Tribune also determined Wednesday that Rakestraw's company provides paratransit services for Pace and a shuttle service that transports disabled Metra patrons from nonaccessible stations. The shuttle service, and Rakestraw's company's name, is listed on Metra's website.
If Rakestraw resigns from Metra's board, it means there will only be six remaining members — the minimum number required for a quorum — out of 11.
Metra's board is scheduled to meet Friday for its first session since June 21, when the members ousted CEO Alex Clifford and awarded him a $718,000 severance package in an agreement that was cloaked in secrecy. Although Metra board members defended the settlement, the deal prompted an uproar, with critics demanding that the members resign. Four have done so, including Chairman Brad O'Halloran.
The state's Regional Transportation Authority Act requires that all five Metra members appointed by Preckwinkle and the suburban Cook County commissioners live in the suburbs. The section covering Preckwinkle's appointment specifically calls for: "One Director who resides in Cook County outside of the City of Chicago, appointed by the President of the Cook County Board with the advice and consent of the members of the Cook County Board."
The mayor of Chicago gets to name the single appointee from the city. Other board members are appointed by the five collar county chairmen and must live in the counties they represent. The statute was meant to ensure geographic balance on the Metra board, said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, an attorney and critic of Metra.
The law prohibiting more than one appointee from living in Chicago is "crystal clear," Franks said.
"Otherwise, board members would be from every square block in Chicago. That's why we have these rules," Franks said.
Rakestraw replaced Willis Pennington, of Olympia Fields, an appointee of Preckwinkle's predecessor, Todd Stroger.
After the Flossmoor fire, Rakestraw and his wife, Pamela, bought the 30th-floor condo at 340 E. Randolph St., records examined by the Tribune show. The condo has an estimated market value of $1.1 million, according to the Cook County assessor's office.
The Rakestraws and their company, SCR, have contributed nearly $13,000 to Preckwinkle over the past several years, according to campaign finance records.
After Crider resigned, Preckwinkle said she supported Rakestraw's decision to approve the Clifford severance package.
"Serving on these public boards is thankless, and under these particular circumstances very difficult. I have great confidence in Stan, whom I appointed … in his good judgment and his competence," Preckwinkle said at the time.
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