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posted: 2/2/2014 5:30 AM

Much-criticized exit deal with ex-CEO still costing Metra

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  • Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, right, testifies to the RTA last summer during a hearing. Clifford's severence deal could end up costing Metra $871,000, an RTA audit forecasts.

       Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, right, testifies to the RTA last summer during a hearing. Clifford's severence deal could end up costing Metra $871,000, an RTA audit forecasts.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer July 201

 
 

Even as Metra settled last week on a permanent executive director, the agency continues to shell out thousands to its former chief.

Since late June, the commuter rail agency has paid more than $319,000 to Alex Clifford, the transit executive who left last summer with a substantial severance package after raising questions about political pressure from the state's most powerful lawmakers.

On June 26, Clifford received a $153,929 lump sum payment that covered his salary through Feb. 10 plus deferred raises, vacation and sick time, the agency said.

Other payments being held in escrow include $75,000 for legal fees and $78,000 for moving expenses, although if Clifford does not relocate that money will be refunded.

In addition, about $12,755 has been paid in COBRA and other health-related benefits.

Metra officials Friday hired Don Orseno, former deputy executive director for operations, to lead the agency for $262,500 a year.

Clifford's settlement package, which includes payments through August 2015, raised the ire of legislators last summer amid speculation by some it was "hush money." The deal was estimated to reach up to $718,000 by Metra officials, although an RTA audit forecasts it could cost $871,000.

Clifford's contention that House Speaker Michael Madigan tried to get a raise for a campaign donor who worked at Metra and that other lawmakers tried to influence hiring sparked ongoing investigations by two state inspectors general, the House Mass Transit Committee and RTA. Madigan has said he did nothing improper.

Clifford also has stated that former Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran and former Director Larry Huggins had conflict of interest issues over contracts, which the two denied.

The scandal caused a schism at Metra, which divided into two camps between those who considered him a whistle-blower and those, including O'Halloran, who accused him of mismanagement.

The size of the separation agreement drew criticism on multiple fronts as Clifford's annual salary was about $252,000. Metra directors also were raked over the coals for failing to invoke an insurance policy that might have saved the railroad thousands.

In addition to wages through February 2014, which is when his contract ended, the separation agreement gave Clifford six more months of salary through August 2014. Metra also agreed to compensate him for any difference between his salary and a future job if it was less.

Clifford declined to comment on the payments Friday.

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