Ex-Metra CEO trades Windy City for West Coast

Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford is headed back to the West Coast after a lively introduction to Illinois politics.

The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District voted Friday to hire Clifford as CEO. The decision should end up saving Metra more than it anticipated when it first approved a costly severance package with the ex-administrator.

Clifford started at Metra in February 2011 after working as a transit executive in southern California.

Last summer, turmoil erupted at Metra after Clifford accused two former board directors of condoning political patronage pressure by lawmakers, including Speaker Michael Madigan, and conflict of interest. Clifford stepped down in June. He later said he was forced out because he pushed back against corruption.

The former Metra directors, Brad O'Halloran and Larry Huggins, denied any wrongdoing, but both left the board. Madigan denied Clifford's claims as well.

Controversy also dogged the pricey separation agreement the board approved for Clifford, with some calling it "hush money." Not only did the deal draw criticism for its amount - given that his salary was about $252,000 - but board directors were castigated for the fact they missed using an insurance policy.

While O'Halloran said the separation package would cost $718,000, the Regional Transportation Authority estimated it would cost up to $871,000.

Clifford's contract with the Santa Cruz transit district would pay him about $181,000 a year, according to documents.

Details are still being worked out, however, it's likely Metra will end up paying Clifford about $668,000, a spokeswoman said. Much of that includes salary from June 2013, when Clifford exited Metra, through August 2014, as per the separation agreement.

Metra also agreed to pay the difference between Clifford's salary at Metra and wages at a new job - if his pay was less elsewhere - until August 2015.

Other payments include legal fees and moving expenses, although the transit district may pick up some costs for relocation.

The Santa Cruz agency operates more than 40 bus routes.

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