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Jack Franks furious over former Metra CEO's severance deal

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 5:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 11:23 p.m. CDT

State Rep. Jack Franks has joined the growing chorus of Illinois lawmakers who argue that taxpayers should not foot the hefty severance package recently awarded to Metra's former chief executive officer.

Metra's board accepted Alex Clifford's resignation Friday and approved $442,000 in severance. It also agreed to pay Clifford's legal fees, moving expenses and health insurance costs, which could push the buyout to more than $750,000.

Franks, a Marengo Democrat, told the Northwest Herald that the extra costs in Clifford's severance is an abuse of taxpayer dollars from a public transit board with a history of accountability issues.

"I only care about the taxpayers being abused, and Metra has allowed the taxpayers to be abused numerous times," Franks said. "I don't think the taxpayers should be subsidizing their incompetence."

Franks and David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, released a joint statement Tuesday calling on Metra not to pass along to taxpayers the extra costs of the buyout beyond Clifford's contracted salary of about $252,000.

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran said last week that Clifford was departing because of a "difference in opinion" on the direction of the rail network. O'Halloran said the size of the "generous" payout was partly because Clifford had to uproot his family from California to take the job.

Clifford, a former executive at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, joined Metra in 2011. He replaced longtime Executive Director Phil Pagano, who was accused of defrauding Metra out of about $475,000. Pagano committed suicide in May 2010 by stepping into the path of a Metra train.

Clifford's contract was set to expire next February.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Metra was not legally required to offer Clifford a severance package. It quoted experts including Thomas Lys of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management as saying that because Clifford resigned, he was not technically entitled to severance under his employment agreement.

Franks spent Tuesday contacting Speaker Michael Madigan and state Rep. Deborah Mell, chairwoman of the Illinois House Transit Committee, about conducting a hearing examining why Clifford received such a large severance and whether taxpayers should cover all the costs.

Mell told the Sun-Times she will talk with other committee members about whether they should hold a hearing to determine why taxpayers are footing the bill for a "huge" severance.

The hearing could come as soon as July 8, when Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield for a special session on pension reform, Franks said.

"We are going to find out why," Franks said. "The severance package certainly is not to the benefit of taxpayers."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

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