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Our view: Schaffer mishandled Metra affair

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 9:30 a.m. CDT

Excuse the cliché, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

And Jack Schaffer was wrong to have emailed internal Metra documents to the transportation agency’s former executive director earlier this year.

Schaffer, McHenry County’s representative on the embattled Metra Board, admitted last week that he sent then-CEO Alex Clifford internal board documents that may have been protected by attorney-client privilege. We believe Schaffer when he says his intentions were sincere.

Schaffer has been an outspoken critic of his fellow board members ever since they voted to give Clifford a severance package worth $718,000 in exchange for Clifford’s silence about patronage and other issues at Metra. Schaffer was the only board member to vote against it. He has called the severance “hush money,” a term we think is appropriate.

Among other things, Clifford has accused powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan of trying to interfere with Metra personnel decisions. When Clifford refused, the Metra Board – Schaffer excluded – turned against him.

Schaffer said he secretly sent the documents, which outlined board members’ complaints about Clifford, because he wanted to give the former CEO a chance to defend himself.

We agree that Clifford should have been able to defend himself publicly before being forced out. But rather than secretly send Clifford the privileged documents, Schaffer should have insisted at an open public meeting that the board give Clifford an opportunity to discuss any concerns.

If the board refused, Schaffer should have brought the entire affair to the public’s attention right then and there.

As we’ve said numerous times, Metra and the other transportation agencies that serve Chicago and the suburbs need a thorough cleansing. We applaud Schaffer for standing up to the establishment, but we admonish him for the way he went about it.

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