State Rep. Harris says Metra chairman should resign; Madigan says investigate me
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State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights is calling upon Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran to resign in the face of a widening smear of corruption at the commuter rail agency.
Meanwhile, Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Friday invited the Legislative Ethics Committee to go ahead and investigate him as the uproar grows over his support of getting a former Metra employee and contributor a raise.
The controversy centers on a separation agreement Metra leaders approved in June that would give up to $718,000 to ex-CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford has accused O'Halloran of trying to oust him after he refused to give the Madigan contributor, labor specialist Patrick Ward, a raise and of another conflict of interest involving a banking contract. O'Halloran feared Madigan would pull funding from the agency, Clifford said.
Harris, a Republican member of the House Mass Transit Committee, filed a resolution Friday asking O'Halloran to resign as chairman and as a Metra board member.
"The coach of a team bears responsibility for the performance of the team," Harris said in a statement. "Given the board's inappropriate golden parachute severance deal with ... Clifford and the attempts at secrecy surrounding that deal, Mr. O'Halloran has not served the board, Metra's riders or the taxpayers well. He should step aside."
The Metra board "has lost the trust of the fare payers who ride the trains," Harris added. "It has lost the trust of members of the General Assembly."
Metra Director Jack Schaffer of Cary, who cast the only vote against the separation agreement for Clifford, said, "Personally, I would like to see Brad step aside and give us a chance to elect a replacement."
Harris also filed a resolution seeking to restrict future Metra board members from serving more than one term — intended as a curb on political influence.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, thinks the entire board should go and voters should choose who represents them on Metra. Currently, the county board chairmen, the Chicago mayor and Cook County Board members choose appointees.
"This board is broken beyond repair. It's dysfunctional," he said.
O'Halloran did not respond to a request for comment.
Madigan, in his letter to the ethics committee Friday, wrote that his office was involved "in supporting a Metra supervisor's recommendation that a Metra employee (Ward) receive a salary adjustment."
"I am writing to encourage you to investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident," he wrote. "I have reviewed the facts surrounding the issue and I am confident that my actions were not inappropriate or violative of any applicable law or ethical rule."
The speaker's statement shows the power of a growing tide of criticism of his perceived interference — criticism linked to his daughter and Attorney General Lisa Madigan's announcement this week that she will not run for governor.
Also Friday, Metra leaders said they'd vote Monday on whether to hire former U.S. assistant attorney Patrick Collins to scrutinize the allegations and make recommendations for the future. Collins gained fame for his involvement in numerous federal prosecutions, including the one that sent former Gov. George Ryan to prison.
"Patrick Collins has an unquestioned reputation for integrity, honesty and fighting corruption," O'Halloran said.
This would be the second probe that Metra has paid for into alleged misconduct. Former assistant U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton reviewed the charges this spring and found nothing wrong, according to O'Halloran.
Metra has not released the cost of Heaton's investigation or said how much Collins would be paid.
Three other agencies are circling Metra as well. The RTA is auditing the separation agreement, and the state's executive inspector general and the General Assembly's legislative inspector general are also investigating. At an RTA hearing Wednesday, Clifford also revealed suspicions about improper conduct involving former Metra Chairman and Director Larry Huggins for his involvement in encouraging more black contractors to work on the Englewood Flyover, a railway bridge on the South Side of Chicago. Clifford said Metra paid $200,000 for a subcontractor on the flyover project — a firm owned by a business associate of Huggins, which raised conflict questions.
Huggins said Clifford was "twisting" the truth.
O'Halloran called Clifford's accusations a "lot of hooey" Wednesday and said he never interfered with hiring at the agency.
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