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Local Metra boardmember seeks full disclosure on ex-CEO's buyout

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 1:46 p.m. CDT

McHenry County’s representative on the Metra Board is asking its president for a full accounting of expenses relating to the severance package approved for former CEO Alex Clifford.

Jack Schaffer in a letter released Tuesday asked Chairman Brad O’Halloran to compile a “full and honest” list of costs on top of the controversial payout that by itself could top $718,000. Schaffer asked for a list including but not limited to internal and external legal costs, public relations consultants and staff time and cost.

The letter asks O’Halloran to get numbers dating to the start of his chairmanship in November, and to have them ready in time for the Metra Board’s next meeting Aug. 16.

“I believe the Board has been kept in the dark on these costs for too long and that the Board and the public have a right to know this information. Please do not run up any additional legal fees trying to figure out a way NOT to give me this information. The taxpayers have waited long enough for this information and the Metra Board has a right to this information,” Schaffer wrote.

Schaffer, who voted “hell no” to Clifford’s severance last month, was the only member of the Metra Board who voted against it. His request of O’Halloran comes a day before the Regional Transportation Authority, which has financial oversight of Metra, is set to interview Clifford, who in a memo released last week made explosive accusations that he was forced out for refusing to comply with House Speaker Michael Madigan’s patronage requests.

The eight-page memo dated April 3 alleges that O’Halloran and board member Larry Huggins wanted him gone because he refused Madigan’s request to give a raise to Metra employee Patrick Ward, a political contributor, and to hire an unnamed person for another job. Clifford also wrote that he refused to fire employees at O’Halloran’s request and opposed contracting decisions by Huggins that Clifford called inappropriate regarding the Englewood Flyover rail bridge on Chicago’s South Side.

Clifford’s testimony on Wednesday will mark his first since his ouster. He did not go to a hearing last week before the RTA and the House Mass Transit Committee, citing a confidentiality clause in the separation agreement. Metra’s attorneys partially waived that agreement to allow Clifford to discuss the memo.

The Metra Board hired Clifford in 2011 in an effort to move on from the scandal surrounding former CEO Phil Pagano. Pagano, who had led the commuter rail agency for 20 years, committed suicide in 2010 by stepping in front of a Metra train near his rural Crystal Lake home hours before the board was set to fire him for improperly collecting $475,000 in vacation payouts and forging the former board chairwoman’s signature to obtain some of it.

Schaffer’s letter asking for an accounting of related costs has some historical precedent. Metra critics in the wake of the Pagano scandal pointed out the agency spent many times more on consulting firms than the amount Pagano actually stole.

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