The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Lawmakers Want Answers On Metra CEO's Severance Package

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 5, 2013 6:40PM

2013_6_21_clifford_pretty.png While you were out grilling meat and drooling at the lights in the sky, lawmakers in Springfield and the Regional Transportation Authority are looking for answers about the severance package given to former Metra CEO Alex Clifford.

Clifford resigned from Metra last month with a $442,237 buyout of his contract and could earn another $300,000 if he can’t find a job in the next 13 months, and the two sides signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them to speak about it. The terms of Clifford’s original deal called for him to receive no severance if he resigned and for Metra’s board of directors to buy out the remaining time on his deal if he was fired.

But this is Metra, where nothing can seemingly be done by its board that doesn’t cost more money than it should and isn’t straightforward. The details of Clifford’s resignation and the money the board wants to pay him to go away are shrouded in secrecy. Clifford’s contract was set to expire February 2014 and he could have resigned with Metra’s board not having to pay him a dime.

Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran, who spearheaded opposition to Clifford from the moment he was elected to head the politically appointed group, said the agency needed to go in a “new direction” at the time of Clifford’s resignation, the only comment Metra has had on the golden parachute offered Clifford. O’Halloran will now have to discuss the severance package at a special meeting of RTA next week. The oversight agency for Metra, Pace and Chicago transit Authority is already reviewing the Clifford deal and Chairman John Gates Jr.asked last week if it was “fiscally prudent” to pay Clifford to leave.

Gates isn’t alone in his concern. The Cook County Board wants to know why there’s all the secrecy on the Clifford exit. The Sun-Times notes that 11 County Board members have weighted votes in appointing four of Metra’s Board members. Commissioner Pete Silvestri said, “If we have the right to appoint them, I think we have the right to know their rationale for such an expensive severance package.’’ Silvestri added he has the necessary votes to call Metra’s commissioners to testify before the Board, if necessary.

The entire Metra board and Clifford have been called to testify before a hearing of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee July 11 at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle, 6th Floor. Committee Chairman Rep. Deborah Mell and leading Republican Rep. Jack Franks both hope to get some answers. Franks, who has long been critical of Metra’s board of directors, said the board essentially “gave (Clifford) a performance raise to leave.”

“It’s tantamount to lunacy. They ought to be locked up — the board,” Franks added. “Keep them away from our money.’’

One Metra board member who seems eager to testify is Jack Shaffer, who voted to “hell no” against Clifford’s resignation.

“The part that bothers me is that Alex was willing to serve through February [2014 when his contract expired] and [then] leave, and then his severance package would have been nothing,’’ Schaffer told the Sun-Times Monday.

“But the chair [Brad O’Halloran] wanted him out right now, and he also wanted that silence clause,’’ which bars board members from talking about the severance negotiations unless questioned by an oversight body.

“Frankly, I think the whole thing stunk from beginning to end. It was totally unnecessary,’’ said Schaffer.