CHICAGO – Powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Thursday he asked senior staff at Metra to consider a pay raise for an associate who was employed at the commuter rail agency, but withdrew the recommendation after Metra's then-CEO expressed discomfort over it.
Madigan addressed the matter in a one-page statement he prepared for a House committee investigating a costly severance deal for Metra's former CEO Alex Clifford, who resigned last month. Clifford has alleged he was pushed out for resisting political pressure in decisions about hiring and contracts.
The link to Madigan, one of Illinois' most powerful politicians, was an unexpected turn in hearings that are unearthing details of Clifford's eye-popping severance package, under which he could reap up to $718,000.
In Thursday's statement, Madigan said that in March 2012, he weighed in on a proposed salary increase for Patrick Ward, who worked as a labor relations specialist at Metra. Madigan said he has worked with Ward for more than 15 years on "a variety of projects," but did not go into detail on their relationship.
"Mr. Ward informed my office that in spite of being asked to assume expanded tasks with additional responsibilities in his position, his $57,000 salary had not increased in more than three years," Madigan wrote. "Given the information presented to my office, we forwarded a recommendation to Metra senior staff that Mr. Ward be considered for a salary adjustment."
He said his office's recommendation for a salary increase was meant to supplement an endorsement from Ward's supervisor.
The Democrat said he withdrew his endorsement after learning that Clifford had concerns about it. Clifford ultimately rejected the recommendation, and Ward later quit, Madigan said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker issued the statement for members of the House Mass Transit Committee after learning the matter would come up Thursday at their hearing into the former Metra CEO's severance deal.
"All Mr. Madigan did was endorse a recommendation made by the employee's supervisor," Brown said. "... It's the exact opposite of any kind of impropriety."
Clifford, who says Metra has used a confidentiality clause to keep him from talking, said he could not immediately comment but that he would try to have a response later Thursday.
A Metra attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The large severance package for Clifford angered state lawmakers who decried the blow to taxpayers.
Describing their falling out, Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran said Clifford bristled at efforts by the agency's board of directors to assert greater oversight of major infrastructure projects and hiring decisions, and that there were major areas of disagreement with Clifford on the agency's direction and the pace of improvements.