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Criticized buyout for Metra CEO includes pay hikes

CHICAGO – A severance package for the former chief executive of Chicago's Metra commuter rail agency includes two pay raises – a revelation that is further rankling state lawmakers and others already criticizing the deal as a waste of taxpayer money.

The buyout for Alex Clifford, who had just eight months left on his contract, could hit $750,000 over more than two years, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday ( ). It includes two salary increases totaling 6 percent, meaning Clifford stands to earn an annual salary of more than $284,000 toward the end of the 26 months covered by the deal.

"It's tantamount to lunacy," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who is among those questioning the blow to taxpayers and calling for a legislative hearing to investigate the deal.

Clifford resigned June 21 after months of secret negotiations with Metra Board members who are barred by a confidentiality clause from revealing details of the talks. Little has been said about why Clifford was pressured to go.

The former executive with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was hired on as Metra's CEO in February 2011 to push through changes after his predecessor was accused of defrauding the agency out of about $475,000.

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran has said only 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.

Franks and other lawmakers want to know why the Metra Board did not just buy Clifford out of what was left of his contract, which would have run out next February, or just allow him to stay on for those eight months while searching for a replacement.

The two pay increases to take effect in January 2014 and January 2015 are 3 percent each, like the annual performance-based raises he was eligible for under the terms of his hiring contract.

For the last 12 months of Clifford's severance deal, Metra will pay only difference between what he earns in any lower paying job he might take and the $284,196 Metra salary.


Information from: Chicago Sun-Times,

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