Suburban lawmakers blast Metra chief's severance deal

SPRINGFIELD — Angry about a $422,000 severance package given to former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, two suburban lawmakers said Tuesday the agency needs to find a way to absorb that cost instead of passing it on to riders or asking the state for more money.

And the Regional Transportation Authority, which has oversight of Metra, waded into the issue as well — stating it would scrutinize the deal to see if it was “financially prudent.”

The Metra board voted to give Clifford the deal Friday after meeting in secret about his future this spring.

Clifford's tenure at the commuter rail agency included fare hikes and requests for more money from the state.

State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said it's too late for the agency to back out of the deal, but officials shouldn't expect more help from the state soon.

“I don't want them to come down asking for more money,” Harris said.

Harris criticized the deal with state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who has pushed for limited pay and benefits for transit officials in the past.

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis declined to comment.

Meanwhile, RTA Chairman John S. Gates Jr. said in a statement Tuesday he had directed staff members to immediately make inquiries about the severance package.

“While Metra is responsible for decisions regarding the staffing of its agency, the RTA has a duty and obligation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being expended properly,” Gates said.

Clifford's deal includes $35,243 for unused vacation days, $21,971 for unused sick days, reimbursement for his pension contributions, up to $78,000 to reimburse him for selling his home and relocating and up to $75,000 for his legal costs related to the settlement.

Harris argued that because Clifford's $252,500 per year contract was set to end in February, Metra officials shouldn't have paid more than the rest of what his salary was worth.

“I don't understand the logic at all,” Harris said.

Metra board officials haven't made much public comment about the deal, but Chairman Brad O'Halloran suggested Friday they made the severance agreement to avoid lawsuits.

“It became clear that there were differences of opinion over his (Clifford's) legal rights under his contract,” O'Halloran said. “It therefore became important to resolve such legal disputes so that Metra can move forward with a clean slate and avoid wasting time and money on attorneys.”

Jack Schaffer of Cary cast the lone vote against the deal and criticized O'Halloran Friday.

“We just have a chairman who wants to run the place,” Schaffer said.

Harris suggested there might be “further ramifications” put forth by lawmakers because of the deal, but he said he was unsure what form other consequences might take.

Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke contributed to this report.

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