Clifford to testify at RTA board despite Metra confidentiality agreement

July 16, 2013 3:49:48 PM PDT
Ousted Metra chief Alex Clifford is expected to face questions about his controversial departure from the commuter rail agency Tuesday, and the large severance package he received.

Regional Transit Authority officials want to know if Clifford was forced to leave because of his refusal to grant patronage requests by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Expect Mr. Clifford to be grilled about the political pressures he endured at Metra. It 's only the beginning of intense scrutiny of the commuter railroad's board.

The 11 Metra board members are mostly suburbanites. They serve four-year terms from their various, individual appointment dates.

The Chicago mayor names one member; the Cook County president another. The Cook County Board appoints four members while county governments in DuPage, Kane, Will, Lake and McHenry each name one person.

"The Metra board is quite political in terms of the appointees," said Prof. Joe Schwieterman, DePaul University.

Schweiterman said he was not surprised by Clifford's allegation that Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and House Speaker Michael Madigan asked that Clifford give a raise to an employee who also was a Madigan campaign donor.

"Mr. Clifford ran into a buzz saw here because there's a sense that some of the appointees feel that they need to push for their share of the bacon, you might say, and the politics become fierce," said Schwieterman.

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran, who wanted Clifford fired, is paid $25,000 a year by the railroad. Board members get $15,000 annually. All receive health insurance and a pension program.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about his confidence level as it pertains to Metra.

"There will be an effort at Metra to make the changes that are necessary. That's for their board," Emanuel said.

The Illinois inspector general has been asked to determine, among other issues, whether Clifford's $700,000 severance pay was "hush money" to keep him quiet about the Madigan link and other political patronage at Metra. Professor Schwieterman says the embattled board's immediate challenge is to find someone to replace Clifford.

"The board can't have it both ways. We can't have a powerbroker and somebody who's shining a flashlight to clean up the dirty stuff," Schwieterman said.

Metra lawyers have agreed to allow Clifford to testify before the Regional Transportation Authority Wednesday morning despite Clifford having signed a confidentiality agreement as part of the severance settlement. The big question is, did any other politicians make a move on Clifford during his brief but stormy tenure at Metra?


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