Beginning the reform work he was hired to perform, new Metra CEO Alex Clifford used a special Metra board meeting today to describe policy changes he has already implemented and outline changes or strategies he will soon undertake.
The changes were primarily in response to recommendations from consultants who were hired by the Metra Board of Directors to improve the agency’s management and operations. Those reports were delivered to Metra two weeks ago, the same day Clifford started his new job. Blackman Kallick, an accounting and financial risk management firm, performed a risk assessment and internal controls analysis, while the law enforcement firm of Hillard Heintze, which has been serving as Metra’s Inspector General since last May, made several recommendations for change in its annual report.
The immediate changes include:
Requiring that all “leniency reinstatements” of dismissed workers be reviewed and approved by the CEO. Hillard Heintze had determined that such reinstatements had previously been done in an arbitrary manner. (Page 30)
Terminating the practice of “exploratory interviews.” Hillard Heintze recommended Metra adopt hiring and promotion practices that support transparency, clarify career paths and engender trust among current and prospective workers. (Page 31)
Requiring that manual timekeeping entries be regularly reviewed by managers. Blackman Kallick recommended that managers exercise greater oversight in that area. (Appendix 2, page 14)
Requiring managers and supervisors to review all overtime reports. Blackman Kallick recommended that managers exercise greater oversight in that area. (Appendix 2, page 15)
Ordering senior staff to conduct a management self-assessment. This will aid with a review and reassessment Metra’s 2009 reorganization, which was recommended by Blackman Kallick. (Appendix 1, page 5)
Beginning development of a request for proposal for support services for a comprehensive non-contract classification and compensation study. Blackman Kallick identified several deficiencies and inconsistencies in that area. (See especially Appendix 2, page 12)
Reaching out to employees for suggestions on cost savings and efficiencies.
Clifford said he received clear instructions from the board to carry out its reform agenda in a swift and comprehensive manner.
“I understand that it is my job to expand upon this and to inspire and empower Metra’s employees to come into alignment with this critically important mission,” Clifford said. “I will push these reforms and others down through the organization. Most importantly, senior management must lead by example.”
Clifford said he plans to review and update Metra’s strategic/capital plan, including assessing the needs across the six-county region, reviewing the current project scoring systems, assigning updated values to projects, identifying high-priority projects and identifying funding strategies.
Clifford is also forming a committee to craft a revised non-contract employee handbook that will update and add to Metra policies. Part of that committee’s job will be to review peer agencies and other transit properties’ policies in order to determine if Metra policies can and should be changed. He also will evaluate the use of Metra’s non-police vehicle fleet and review all existing take-home vehicles with the goal of creating a new vehicle policy.
Clifford said he is working with Metra’s Human Resources Department and Blackman Kallick to make recommendations relative to health, pension and cost-avoidance issues. He will also ask Blackman Kallick to complete a risk assessment for the remainder of Metra and to develop a comprehensive annual enterprise risk assessment, an internal audit and a controls strategy.
Clifford is conducting an analysis of high-overtime groups to determine the appropriate cost-benefit of hiring more workers versus paying overtime. He also will begin a monthly review of overtime reports for the Metra Police Department and will review existing policies on filling vacancies with overtime. He will recommend that Metra undertake a comprehensive review of the department, including its organizational structure, its responsibilities and its external security contracts.
In addition, Clifford described plans to quickly fill several vacancies in upper management. Metra already has posted openings for a chief of staff, general counsel and legislative affairs officer and will soon post the positions of labor relations officer and the head of capital and strategic planning. In addition, Clifford will seek board concurrence to hire a search firm to find a chief financial officer.
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