July 29--The state's top watchdog issued the results Monday of two investigations at Metra, including a case that found a long-standing practice of falsifying work logs intended to ensure safety by limiting train crews' hours.
The other investigation determined that a Metra Police Department lieutenant violated the state ethics act by completing a mandatory online ethics training program for four other police officers.
In the first case, Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza said that a Metra practice called "change of assignment" resulted in the falsification of Federal Railroad Administration hours of service logs.
"Accurate log keeping is not simply an administrative ritual or completion of paperwork -- it is required to ensure public safety, pure and simple," Meza said in a statement accompanying the result of a three-year probe prompted by an anonymous complaint of ghost payrolling at Metra.
The Federal Railroad Administration said it reviewed Meza's findings and determined violations of federal regulations "did occur in connection with this case." The FRA said it is pursuing civil penalties against Metra and will issue warning letters against individuals involved.
Meza's report recommended that several top Metra officials be disciplined, including Executive Director Don Orseno, saying "none of them appeared to have taken appropriate action or exercised good judgment" in monitoring how the change-of-assignment practice, known as "swapping," affected the log keeping.
Metra disputed the results of the probe, saying the report was "wrought with errors and should not have been published." The job swapping did not threaten public safety or break employment laws, and merely gave Metra "flexibility" in scheduling, Metra said.
Metra Chairman Martin Oberman said the practice "never involved intentional wrongdoing or a misuse or theft of public funds."
Metra said job swapping was "an historic railroad industry practice" that Metra inherited from the Illinois Central, which became the Electric District Line. It never involved "ghost payrolling" and was discontinued at Metra nearly three years ago, Metra said.
"Employees were paid only for shifts actually worked and documented, and never cost the taxpayers a dime. There were indeed some paperwork inaccuracies, but at no time was safety compromised," Metra said.
Meza said the practice of "swapping" was not really an exchange of job assignments but rather a practice that allowed Metra conductors or engineers to take a day off work, usually Saturdays. But they marked that they did work, and their replacements did not show their time worked.
In the other investigation of Metra, the inspector general's office found that the police lieutenant completed mandatory online ethics training for four other Metra police officers in violation of the state ethics act.
The lieutenant could not be reached for comment.
Meza said the lieutenant told investigators that "no one wants to complete an ethics training."
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