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Article updated: 11/18/2013 6:03 PM

Audit: Metra board in the dark about CEO settlement options

Daily Herald File Photo Alex Clifford left Metra in June but he continues to haunt the agency.

Daily Herald File Photo Alex Clifford left Metra in June but he continues to haunt the agency.

 
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A majority of Metra board members were kept in the dark about pertinent details leading up to a controversial settlement with former CEO Alex Clifford, an RTA audit concludes.

"The board was provided information on decisions that appear to already have been made, rather than given options from which to choose," a report from Regional Transportation Authority's auditors stated.

They also reported that "a significant portion of the information was provided verbally during meetings with no documents to accompany the briefings." The finalized audit will be presented at an RTA board meeting Wednesday.

Clifford left Metra in June with a separation agreement of up to $718,000 although the RTA speculates it could potentially reach $871,000. Clifford said he was forced out for refusing to condone conflicts of interest and political pressure over jobs and contracts from former Chairman Brad O'Halloran and Director Larry Huggins. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Auditors also said there was no reason given why the final settlement reached during a mediation process with a judge was much higher than Metra's original offer. It noted that Metra agreed to pay Clifford $78,000 for relocation expenses although the agency only gave him $25,000 to move to the Chicago area when originally hired in 2011, which "does not seem reasonable," auditors said.

Key missing documents included an account of an investigation by a former federal prosecutor and records from the mediation, the audit states.

After Clifford left, the leadership void was filled by O'Halloran with advice from the board's lawyer Andrew Greene, a consultant. O'Halloran could not be reached for comment.

Greene, whose firm is no longer consulting for the railroad, said Monday he would be "happy" to talk about the situation if Metra officials gave him permission.

Metra Director Don DeGraff, one of five out of 11 board members remaining since the scandal, said it was difficult to comment on the audit without reviewing it first.

Meanwhile, Metra is coping with another administrative quandary. Conspicuous by his absence at a Friday meeting was former Chief Operating Officer Alex Wiggins, a key adviser on issues including free Wi-Fi on trains and staff compensation. Wiggins is on administrative leave, several officials said.

Wiggins had been rumored as a possible successor to Clifford while the former CEO was still working at Metra, Clifford testified this summer.

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