Politics & Government

Even though a vote was unanimous, concerns remain over process to hire Bi-State CEO

Bi-State Development and MetroBus and MetroLink drivers union negotiations

Bi-State Development and the union representing MetroBus drivers and MetroLink train operators have been negotiating for a new contract. There has been disagreement over the length of the deal.
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Bi-State Development and the union representing MetroBus drivers and MetroLink train operators have been negotiating for a new contract. There has been disagreement over the length of the deal.

A day after publicly questioning the hiring process of the Bi-State Development president, Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler stood by his allegations that the process was improper, even though the CEO’s contract was ultimately approved unanimously by the 10-member board.

Prenzler on Tuesday alleged the process that led to the hiring of Taulby Roach as Bi-State president and CEO for $280,000 a year was done improperly.

On Wednesday, Prenzler questioned why the Dec. 13 meeting, where all 10 Bi-State commissioners voted unanimously to approve Roach’s contract, was done via a phone conference.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that. How does the public ever participate, how do they observe what’s going on?” Prenzler said.

Prenzler has called for the closed session minutes from a Nov. 16 meeting of the board to be released. It was then that commissioners apparently came to a consensus that Roach would be offered the CEO job.

The Bi-State agency, which was created through a compact between Illinois and Missouri, said it won’t release minutes from its November meeting because it was held, legally, in private.

“Minutes from executive sessions of Bi-State Development board meetings are not public open records due to discussions regarding privileged matters such as legal, confidential, personnel or real estate,” Bi-State spokeswoman Patti Beck told the News-Democrat in an email.

Bi-State Commissioner Derrick Cox, who represents Madison County on the board and was appointed by Prenzler, said he had pushed for two other candidates during the November meeting. One candidate was rejected and the second came to a vote, but Cox was the only person to vote in favor of that person, he said.

Bi-State rules require that when taking action, a majority of the Missouri members and a majority of the Illinois members present need to vote in favor of the hiring. Illinois and Missouri each have five seats on the Bi-State board.

Prenzler said only four of the Illinois commissioners were present during a vote in November, including the two Madison County Commissioners — Cox and Justin Zimmerman. Cox and Zimmerman did not vote to hire Roach in November.

Of the the St. Clair County representatives, Irma Galliday, was absent, meaning only two of the five Illinois commissioners voted, in principle, of hiring Roach.

Cox said Wednesday, however, it was inferred that Golliday would have voted in favor of Roach.

Cox said there was enough support from the Missouri commissioners to move ahead with the hire.

In an interview Wednesday, Roach said he could not share details of the process that led to his hiring.

“I can’t tell you about an executive session meeting I wasn’t present for, or also I was the subject (of). That is wholly inappropriate for me to do,” Roach said.

When the board reviewed the minutes for the November meeting, it initially incorrectly recorded the vote on Roach, Cox said. The minutes were later corrected.

Prenzler and Cox both called for the meeting minutes to be released from the November meeting.

“The first step is these meeting minutes should be made public, so we don’t have to be guessing about this,” Prenzler said. “The second step is transparency. I think transparency is a boring thing that is talked about a lot, but it’s important.”

When asked about Roach’s performance, Cox said the CEO is doing “all right, with (the) cards he was dealt.”

Roach pointed out he has a good relationship with his board members, and since he was hired, he has had unanimous votes on large projects such as a bond refinancing and a budget.

“What that tells me is this board is behind me, endorses these ideas and is with me in moving this (agency) forward,” Roach said. “Unfortunately, we’re also making some hard decisions. I guess with some of the change and hard decisions it make things difficult.”

Attending meetings via phone

Prenzler and Cox have also questioned why a meeting was allowed to take place via telephone a month after the November executive session. During that teleconference, all 10 Bi-State commissioners voted to hire Roach.

In Illinois, board members of a public body cannot create a quorum via electronic device. Board members are allowed to participate via telephone, but a quorum has to be physically present in order for meeting to take place. In Missouri however, boards may create a virtual quorum.

In a previous records request response, Bi-State has said it reserves the right to close any agency record that would be permitted to be closed under any exemption of Missouri or Illinois laws, if those laws were applicable to the agency. The agency also said it reserves the right to close any record at its discretion.

Bi-State overlaps Illinois and Missouri and oversees the Metro Public Transportation system, MetroBus and MetroLink, as well as the St. Louis Regional Freightway, Gateway Arch Riverfront, St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, and the Bi-State Development Research Institute.

Prenzler’s accusation came as legislation sits on Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to change the make up of the Illinois members of the Bi-State Board.

Of the five Illinois seats, three are currently members appointed by Democratic St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern. The other two members were appointed by Prenzler, a Republican.

Under current state law, St. Clair and Madison County alternate each year on who makes an appointment to the board for a five-year term.

The legislation calls for taking a Bi-State Board appointment from Madison County and giving it St. Clair County, so that there would be four people from St. Clair County and just one from Madison County.

The legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea. Hoffman has said he pushed the legislation because St. Clair County has MetroLink and MetroBus, neither of which operate in Madison County.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why we reported this story

The Bi-State Development Agency covers both sides of the Mississippi River in the St. Louis region, and has commissioners from both Illinois and Missouri. Among its function is it runs the MetroLink and MetroBus system for which it receives a large amount of tax dollars.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.
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