Two main questions were at the focus of Wednesday’s Regional Transportation Authority special board meeting.
What led to Metra CEO Alex Clifford’s resignation, and why was he given a severance package that could cost about $718,000?
The meeting was Metra board chairman Brad O’Halloran’s first public session where he would answer these questions that have been hanging since Clifford’s severance package was approved with a 9-1 vote on June 21. Both sides said that the agreement has terms that won’t allow either to disclose certain aspects of the deal.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, O’Halloran said the severance would have been cheaper than litigation that would’ve likely followed Clifford’s departure. But on what grounds would Clifford sue? According to the Chicago Tribune, Clifford was not invited to Wednesday’s RTA meeting.
Clifford previously said he was pressured to hire people based on political ties and chose not to.
O’Halloran fired back Wednesday with the following claims:
- In May 2012, the original plan for the $93 million Englewood Flyover project included less than half of a percent of contracts awarded to local firms staffed by African-Americans. It was looked upon as an insult to the community resulting in congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis threatening to cut the funding. When the board worked with the congressmen and community leaders to even the field, “Clifford believed it was improper for the board or its chairman to undertake discussions with political and community leaders”
- In July 2012, leaders of the Illinois General Assembly’s Latino Caucus told Clifford in a meeting that they wanted more Latinos in upper management at Metra, and asked him to consider resumes and he refused
- Clifford did not make any claims with the Office of the Inspector General that he was being pressured to make political hires, though after O’Halloran learned of the accusations, he instructed that they were to be sent to the OIG
- A Metra board member told Clifford that his contract wouldn’t be renewed after an evaluation
- Clifford would sue if that happened under the claim that it was retaliation for making the political pressure allegations
- No impropriety has been established by two investigations ordered by Metra into the matter as of today
- Once negotiations began, Clifford was offered to work the remainder of his contract and then leave, but he turned that offer down
Attorney Joe Gagliado, who represented Metra during negotiations with Clifford, made the following claims:
- Former Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Don O’Connell recommended the settlement after mediation, and neither side was happy with the recommendation but agreed upon it
- No cause for removal was established for Clifford
- If the dispute went to court, Clifford’s legal costs alone would surpass the settlement agreement
- Board members that Clifford accused of applying political pressure were allowed to vote on the settlement deal, though had they been recused from the vote, the six necessary votes to approve the deal would have still come in
- Clifford’s settlement could cost as much as $718,000 total if he doesn’t find a job in 14 months as a worst-case scenario. Gagliardo described the best case scenario as “a couple hundred thousand dollars”
While not part of the original point of the meeting, O’Halloran offered the following plans Metra will be undertaking now that the settlement is done with:
- Bringing back the 10-ride ticket at a reduced rate
- Adding wifi
- Enhancing a train tracker app this fall
- Adding on-train credit card payments by July 2014
- Creating a task force to work on better on-time performance
- Sprucing up train cars and stations
- Building security with help from area police chiefs, which will be led by Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy
- Working to fill gaps in transit, such as shuttles to and from stations possibly via PACE buses
Clifford and the other 10 Metra board members have been invited to speak before the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee Thursday in Chicago, according to the Tribune.
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