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posted: 6/27/2013 9:04 AM

The Metra board's outrageous generosity

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We would have thought that, if nothing else, the directors on Metra's board at least would have been mindful of appearances after it was discovered that former executive director Phil Pagano embezzled about $500,000 on their watch.

Being mindful of their obligation to the public trust may have been too much to hope for. But wouldn't they at least be concerned about their own reputations? Wouldn't they at least want to avoid looking foolish again?

Well, last week, the majority of directors voted to take Pagano's half million in lost Metra revenue and pretty well double it. It is such a sad and embarrassing head-scratcher that even the euphoria of a Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship can't distract us from it.

On Friday, all the directors except Jack Schaffer of Cary voted to push Metra CEO Alex Clifford out the door, but with a severance package of at least $442,000. And that may not be all. As transportation and projects writer Marni Pyke reports today, under certain circumstances, the total cost could run considerably higher -- possibly to as much as $700,000.

Our point here isn't to defend Clifford or to condemn him. We take no position on whether he ought to have been ousted. It is within the directors' purview to decide whether he stays or goes.

But $442,000 or more for a contract that had less than $200,000 obligated? What were they thinking?

If this were their own money they were spending, would they have spent it this way?

Let us work in another sports reference here. These directors are to guarding the public purse as the Cubs are to winning World Series championships, except maybe not quite so lovable.

As state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights put it, "I don't understand the logic of it at all."

Included in the package is $21,971 for unused sick days, as though Clifford should be paid for staying well and as though he isn't already going to be paid for staying home from work.

Payment for sick days is almost unheard of in the private sector. In the public sector, it's the result of unions that combine both labor and political clout. Whatever the case, the last we heard, Clifford was an executive, not a union member.

The package also includes $78,000 to reimburse Clifford for relocation expenses. All of us run the risk that our jobs might not work out when we take them. Most of us don't get reimbursed for that risk. We question the logic in reimbursing Clifford.

Chairman Brad O'Halloran of Orland Park admitted the package is "generous" but defended it as the price for avoiding a lawsuit.

Sure, the Metra board should strive to avoid expensive lawsuits. We don't question that at all. What we question is why someone who by contract is due less than $200,000 should end up receiving more than twice that amount when he's asked to resign.

Having spent all this money, the directors now have an obligation: Recoup it in efficiencies and belt tightening rather than turning to commuters and taxpayers to underwrite their largesse.

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