A CTA “L” supervisor who was recommended for firing following a rail yard mishap was instead slapped with a three-day suspension after an influential state lawmaker raised questions about the disciplinary case, the Better Government Association has learned.
State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), who is chairman of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee, called CTA President Rich Rodriguez on Sept. 9 to discuss CTA disciplinary proceedings against Nereida Santa, CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney confirmed. Roughly a week later, the recommended punishment was reduced to a three-day unpaid suspension.
CTA officials contend Santa was at the helm of an out-of-service Blue Line train that rolled through what effectively is a stop sign in the Forest Park rail yard Aug. 20. No passengers were on board, nobody was hurt and there was no damage to equipment.
Despite the appearance of exerting his influence in an internal CTA matter, Arroyo told the BGA he was just helping a constituent who had come to him extremely worried about losing her job.
“The job of a legislator is to inquire when you think something is not right,” Arroyo said. “I just inquired. She said, ‘They’re treating me bad.’ . . . I put in a call to see what’s going on.”
According to Arroyo, Rodriguez said: “Let it go through the proper channels.” Arroyo said his response was: “OK, I just wanted to know.”
Gaffney said Santa’s punishment was “administered according to CTA rules and procedures,” and wasn’t “influenced by calls from elected officials.”
Earlier this year, Arroyo caused a stir when it was revealed that people with ties to him – including a daughter, and a son’s girlfriend – landed on Metra’s payroll. Arroyo has insisted that, while he pushes for more Latino employment at Metra, the CTA and Pace – the transit agencies regulated by the legislative committee he oversees – he does not seek preferential treatment for anyone.
Santa, who could not be reached for comment, has steadfastly denied doing anything wrong.
“Rep. Arroyo sits in a position of power over CTA budgets and operations,” BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw said, “so any call from him to a CTA official represents undue pressure—intentional or not—and that creates a conflict of interest because CTA employees without allies in key positions don’t have the same benefit. That tilts the playing field unfairly.”
This story was reported by BGA Investigations Editor Robert Herguth.