McHenry County Metra rep 'suspicious' about CEO's exit

CHICAGO – The outgoing Metra chief executive officer was too honest for Illinois, one Metra director said.

Jack Schaffer cast the sole "no" vote against a severance package for Metra CEO Alex Clifford that could total $750,000 with $442,000 in severance, plus legal fees, moving expenses and health insurance costs.

"I didn't vote 'no'; I voted hell no," said Schaffer, who was appointed to the Metra Board of Directors in 2006 to represent McHenry County.

"I thought about it on the train on my way home. My 20 years on the state Senate, seven years on the Metra board, and my many years on different boards and committees, I have probably cast 40,000 votes. That was my first hell no."

Schaffer's problems with the package echo what numerous lawmakers, including state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, have argued since the board accepted Clifford's resignation June 21.

The Regional Transportation Authority is reviewing the deal, its chairman said Tuesday.

Taxpayers shouldn't have to cover the buyout beyond Clifford's contracted salary of about $252,000, Franks said in a joint statement with state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights.

"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."

Schaffer agreed, adding that Clifford was willing to serve out his contract through its February end date. He also raised concerns about the secrecy surrounding the agreement.

"The board chairman wanted him gone, and he wanted him gone now with no regard for the cost or the implication. I find that suspicious," Schaffer said.

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.

Schaffer doesn't have a bad thing to say about Clifford's tenure at Metra.

"He came in at a god-awful time," he said. "We were in chaos. He put the place on an even keel."

Clifford created a "fair and equitable pay scale" and embraced new technology, moving the organization forward, Schaffer said, adding that major changes like those were going to ruffle some feathers.

But Clifford wouldn't look the other way on political patronage jobs, and that is why he was ousted, Schaffer said.

"Alex Clifford was too honest for Illinois," he said. "And that saddens me."

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