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Report: Metra Could Have Saved Money Firing Ex-CEO

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 4, 2014 9:00PM

2013_6_21_clifford_pretty.png Whenever you want to grouse about the inefficiencies and ineptitude at CTA, remind yourself that things are worse at Metra. The suburban rail agency released a report Thursday detailing the costs of buying out the contract of former CEO Alex Clifford (pictured) last year. Clifford received $652,363 in salary including accrued time off, health insurance, relocation expenses and attorney fees in the settlement. Metra’s board, meanwhile, spent an extra $662,494 in attorney fees to defend the settlement and assist in related investigations.

Clifford and Metra’s board of directors signed a confidentiality agreement where the two parties agreed not to reveal the reasons for the settlement, but it was reported the central issue involved Clifford’s refusal to sign off on patronage hires, including a member of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political army. Former Metra Board president Brad O’Halloran testified settling with Clifford was more prudent than the possibility of Clifford filing a lawsuit seeking damages higher than what was offered in the settlement.

A clause in Metra’s contract with Clifford would have allowed the agency to fire Clifford and pay him only the remaining time on his deal, which would have expired last February. An August 2013 audit of the Clifford buyout by the Regional Transportation Authority concluded it wasn’t “financially prudent” and that an insurance policy taken out by the agency could have covered any lawsuit Clifford threatened.

So the settlement eventually cost Metra $1.3 million. That’s math and decision making rivaled only by Chicago Public Schools.

All those outside attorneys hired by O’Halloran were promptly discontinued by acting board chairman Jack Partelow and permanently ended by current board chairman Martin Oberman, who requested the audit and disclosure “to prevent a recurrence of the issues which led to the Clifford settlement and to reinforce Metra’s commitment to transparency,” according to the agency.