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Metra Doesn't Get Its Man As Ex-Prosecutor Steps Back

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 22, 2013 4:22PM

Patrick Collins (Photo via Illinois Reform Coalition.)
Metra can’t even get appointing an independent investigator right. Patrick Collins, the former federal prosecutor tapped by the rail agency’s board chairman, Brad O’Halloran, to investigate patronage hiring claims by former CEO Alex Clifford, had to remove himself from consideration after his law firm revealed there would be a conflict of interest if he was appointed.

The law firm of Perkins Coie, where Collins is a partner, discovered “potential conflict issues,” according to a letter Collins sent Metra. A statement on Metra’s website announced the cancellation of a Monday morning meeting to approve of Collins’ appointment. O’Halloran said in the statement, “I am personally disappointed that Patrick Collins cannot undertake this endeavor,” O’Halloran said. “I felt he would have done an excellent job. I remain committed to interviewing other lawyers with outstanding reputations and investigative skills, and to once again ask the board for its approval.”

Collins recusal from the investigation is possibly the most honorable thing to come out of this mess, next to Clifford’s decision to work testify to the Regional Transportation Authority’s board of directors about his memo to Metra’s board. The severance package Metra’s board authorized for Clifford was done so that he wouldn’t file a whistleblower lawsuit against the agency and that the memo would never come to light. The confidentiality agreement was also negotiated into the severance package, meaning Clifford has been walking a tightrope regarding what he could and couldn’t reveal to the RTA board. Collin’s removal is another black eye for O’Halloran, who was appointed to Metra’s board in 2011, became chairman in 2012 and almost immediately began sparring with Clifford. The Tribune has a must-read profile on O’Halloran that shows how he became a player in Chicago area politics. He’s raised money for both Democrats and Republicans, used his connections to the Daley family to enter suburban politics and won the endorsement of Republican Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman in his appointment to Metra’s board.

The political clout of Metra’s board of directors has become such an issue that the Tribune wrote an editorial insisting the entire board resign.