Metra defends ex-CEO's $700K buyout

July 10, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Speaking before the Regional Transportation Authority, O'Halloran defended Metra's decision to use taxpayer money to pay as much as $718,000 in severance. The RTA has financial oversight over Metra and other Chicago transit agencies.

Clifford resigned June 21 after making allegations that Metra officials retaliated against him for refusing to make political hires.

O'Halloran says there's nothing to substantiate the claim, but letting it go to court would have cost taxpayers millions, and that's why Metra agreed to a cushy settlement in exchange for Clifford's resignation.

"The most reckless charge has been that we paid Clifford hush money," O'Halloran said. O'Halloran said Clifford made many mistakes, including raising the price of a 10-ride ticket.

Metra faces two audits for agreeing to the severance.

"There is no question in my mind that if Alex Clifford had given into the requests he got, he would have been given a second, three-year term with a substantial pay increase," Jack Schaffer, Metra board member, said.

Schaffer was the only Metra board member to vote against the severance package.

"$250,000 was severance and $500,000 was the 'thou-shall-not-talk' clause. I thought it was excessive," Schaffer said.

O'Halloran said Clifford's allegations of corruption only started after he was told his contract might not be renewed and that the money agreed upon was settled on after it became apparent Clifford planned to file a lawsuit no matter what.

"This is being portrayed as a golden parachute. This is a settlement," Joe Gagliardo, Metra attorney, said. "Based on experience, the cost of defense would have exceeded the cost of the settlement."

The Illinois House is also auditing Clifford's severance package. One state representative said he expects fireworks at the hearing scheduled for Thursday, which Clifford has been invited to attend.

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