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updated: 7/12/2013 7:31 PM

Clifford says he was pushed out for bucking patronage

Ex-Metra CEO: I was fired for resisting Mike Madigan

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  • Alex Clifford

      Alex Clifford

  • Brad O'Halloran

      Brad O'Halloran

 
 

With two key Metra leaders "acting improperly" and gunning for his job because he resisted "political patronage politics" from the likes of Speaker Michael Madigan, ex-CEO Alex Clifford appealed to remaining board directors to give him a fair hearing in an April 3 memo obtained Friday by the Daily Herald.

"It would be very unfortunate if someone who was hired to run Metra in accordance with the law after a major scandal were to be terminated because he did not play ball with politicians," Clifford wrote.

His criticism centers on Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins, who he claims usurped his authority and "said I must go for not complying with Speaker Madigan's requests for politically motivated employment actions."

Metra's been reeling since directors in June approved what's been called a golden parachute for Clifford with $442,000 outright and provisos that could bring the total to $749,000 if he can't find another job in a specified time.

Clifford's impassioned memo offers a dramatically different version of events than the one presented to RTA directors and state lawmakers this week by O'Halloran and attorneys.

"I have never intervened with Metra's staff regarding any jobs or contracts," O'Halloran said in a statement Friday. "The board attempted a fair and unbiased review process for Mr. Clifford that was upended by his threatened legal strategy, which resulted in the settlement."

Metra leaders made the case that if Clifford suspected wrongdoing he should have reported it to authorities immediately instead of raising ethics questions when it appeared his job was in jeopardy.

O'Halloran said he turned Clifford's allegations, which date back to the spring of 2012, over to the Office of the Executive Inspector General this March.

The new information has, however, raised the question of whether a conflict of interest existed when O'Halloran voted on Clifford's separation agreement. Huggins did not vote.

In his memo, released to Illinois lawmakers Friday, Clifford said Madigan lobbied to give employee Patrick Ward, a political contributor, a raise, and to hire another unnamed candidate for a job.

When Clifford refused, Huggins argued with him about the decision and O'Halloran later said Clifford's dissent required him to meet with Madigan to assess what "damage" the CEO had done to Metra's future funding prospects, according to Clifford.

Madigan's office said it had no record of the hiring request but confirmed it had asked that Ward be given a raise as he was well-qualified and had been given extra responsibilities. A spokesman noted Ward's supervisor also approved a raise.

Ward has contributed about $10,000 to Madigan's 13th District fund and to his daughter Attorney General Lisa Madigan's campaigns, state records show. He could not be reached for comment.

Clifford also detailed how he was requested by state Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, and members of the Latino caucus to hire a specific individual for a deputy director position and told them he would follow Metra's standard hiring procedures.

"Our concern was that Latinos were not being given a fair shake at Metra," Arroyo said, adding there had been no pressure, just a request for more representation.

Another dispute centered on O'Halloran giving directions to communications staff and PR consultant Gary Mack and asking that Metra's legal chief and procurement head be fired because he thought they were incompetent, Clifford alleged. Such interference contravenes the RTA Act, which gives Metra's CEO broad powers, he argued.

O'Halloran and others have argued that given the suicide of former Metra CEO Phil Pagano amid a probe into his swindling about $475,000, board members should be more involved with decisions.

Clifford also chastised Huggins for intervening in the Englewood flyover, a South Side railway bridge. Residents and local congressmen were outraged and packed a Metra board meeting last summer after they said the agency excluded black contractors.

Clifford said Huggins asked him to either terminate the contract with low bider IHC or pressure the firm to include more black-owned businesses on the project. This was contrary to Metra's attorneys' advice, Clifford noted. Huggins also tried to arrange to pay a third party $50,000 for services related to the bridge.

"I categorically deny Clifford's allegations, and I am especially concerned with his claims regarding my efforts to resolve the community concerns with minority business and employment participation in the Englewood Flyover project," Huggins said. "This project is taking place in an African-American community, and important leaders like Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis were justifiably upset over the lack of community representation in Clifford's original construction plans."

Adding to the problems were Clifford's suspicions Deputy Executive Director for Administration Alex Wiggins was being tapped for his job. That move would make any job evaluation "a sham," he said.

Clifford said Friday that his memo "spoke for itself."

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