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O’Halloran Takes Shots at Clifford, Makes Metra Promises

Metra board chairman Brad O’Halloran said former Metra CEO Alex Clifford only accused Metra board members of applying political pressure for decisions after learning his contract might not be renewed, during Wednesday’s RTA meeting.

(From left) Joe Gagliado and Brad O'Halloran. | Credit: Ben Feldheim
(From left) Joe Gagliado and Brad O'Halloran. | Credit: Ben Feldheim

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

What’s Next

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.

Read our live blog replay for a more detailed recap of the meeting.

Watch video of Brad O'Halloran speaking before the RTA board.

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laura July 11, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Thanks, Ben, for the wrap. Interesting content: "Building security with help from area police chiefs, which will be led by Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy" ChiSunXs today has pdf with O'Halloran's entire prepared comments/slide tags in which he touts McCarthy as heading this panel. Question: is this a paid position as a Metra consultant? If so, was this contract/position bid out and if not bid out, why?
Ben Feldheim (Editor) July 11, 2013 at 01:27 PM
It was described during the meeting as a "blue ribbon panel" that will advise Metra on security. No mention was made if this was a paid position or a consultant contract, but at least at the outset it doesn't sound like that's what it is. It sounds like more of an advisory commission. I left a message with O'Halloran for clarification on that.
laura July 11, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Thanks.... more today from ChiTrib: "At Thursday’s hearing before the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee investigating the severance deal, Metra lawyer Joseph Gagliardo identified the two board members whom Clifford implicated in a patronage complaint shortly before he began negotiating his severance package with the commuter rail system. Gagliardo said the board members were Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran and Larry Huggins. Gagliardo said they did not ask for jobs or contracts for friends or family. In an interview with the Tribune Tuesday, O'Halloran denied that he was mentioned in Clifford's patronage complaint. O’Halloran and Huggins voted on the $718,000 severance deal despite Clifford's threats to file a lawsuit if he could not reach a financial settlement with the agency. Huggins voted “present” during the severance package vote, O’Halloran voted for it. Gagliardo said the Madigan inquiry was mentioned in Clifford's patronage complaint. He contends the speaker didn’t cross the line by inquiring about his friend's salary. “Elected officials don't lose their legal right to talk to people,” Gagliardo said. The Regional Transportation Authority held hearings Wednesday on the Clifford settlement, but didn’t press Gagliardo for the identities of the two board members whom Clifford implicated in his patronage complaint. At Thursday’s hearing State Rep. Deb Mell pressed Gagliardo to identify the board members."
Bob Rodeghero July 12, 2013 at 07:29 PM
Interesting that the politically connected chairman who lives in ORLAND PARK picks the ORLAND PARK police chief to be on some panel - guess he knows his neighbor will vote the way he tells him. And isn't one of the newly "co appointed" CEOs from ORLAND PARK? Sounds like a "made for Lifetime TV movie". Chicago Land has not changed since Al Capone ran it - just a new guy in town.
laura July 12, 2013 at 07:48 PM
Yep, Bob. R., my sentiments exactly! I've asked whether McCarthy's position with the Metra panel would be a compensated post and if so, was that post bid out/ advertised, etc., or simply appointed ny O'Halloran. Transparency is called for here and in Orland Park. It hasn't happened in either place -- YET! Given that O'Halloran is chairman of the OP village's Finance Committee, it is entirely germane to question his acumen and handling not only of Metra finances but also of the Village's allocation of finances and its choices, including the huge muni issuance financing the 9750 condos, doesn't it?

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