Metra spent $1.3 million to oust former chief Alex Clifford
Spin control and legal advice related to Alex Clifford's exit from Metra and his accusations of corruption cost more than the actual separation agreement with the former CEO, a report from the agency showed Thursday.
Metra paid about $1.3 million as a result of the scandal that erupted in summer 2013 when Clifford said he was being pushed out for refusing to condone pressure from high-ranking board directors over political hiring.
Of the $1.3 million, $662,494 went to outside attorneys and public relations professionals who advised the board on how to handle the debacle and negotiated with Clifford's lawyers.
Clifford's share was $652,363, which includes $419,549 in wages and compensation for the fact his salary at his new job in California is less than at Metra. Other significant expenses were $75,000 for Clifford's attorneys and $60,494 for moving and relocation.
The deal, originally estimated to be $718,000, outraged the public and legislators -- given that Clifford's annual salary was about $252,000 -- and fostered speculation by some it was "hush money."
The furor did not abate despite the fact former Chairman Brad O'Halloran authorized paying $41,434 to PR firm Culloton Strategies to help quell the crisis, according to the report.
The controversy resulted in an exodus of many Metra board directors.
Metra officials stressed the expenses were incurred by O'Halloran and that the new board of directors instituted reforms to prevent abuses of power. Reforms include creating a chief auditor position, ethics training, dispensing with a private attorney for the board and mandating that any inquiries about jobs at Metra, such as requests from lawmakers, be disclosed publicly.
Previously, the board had its own law firm, Johnston Greene, which answered to O'Halloran primarily, the report stated. The $662,494 included fees to Johnston Greene plus three other law firms.
The new board is committed to transparency, Chairman Martin Oberman said in a statement. "Not only are we releasing this full accounting of Metra's costs relating to Mr. Clifford's departure, but we're applying what we learned to make critical changes that address issues that arose during this matter."
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 stated that O'Halloran and former Director Larry Huggins supported patronage pressure from lawmakers and 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. Oberman said he asked staff members to compile a list of all the related expenses after Clifford took a job this spring as CEO of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District.
State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights, a member of the Mass Transit Committee, noted, "the Metra chairman is new and the board has been reconstituted since the Clifford matter, and they have instituted internal reforms. That's positive."