Secret Metra report reveals internal views of patronage allegations

Ex-CEO's words on Madigan inquiry about raise at issue

  • Alex Clifford

    Alex Clifford

  • Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford testifies before the Regional Transit Authority board in Chicago, Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Clifford is appearing to answer questions about his dealings with Illinois politicians.

    Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford testifies before the Regional Transit Authority board in Chicago, Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Clifford is appearing to answer questions about his dealings with Illinois politicians.

 
 
Updated 9/23/2014 10:12 AM

A secret report obtained by the Daily Herald Monday sheds some light on Metra's 2013 patronage scandal but falls short of clearing the agency as its former chairman claimed.

The internal investigation, sparked by ex-CEO Alex Clifford's accusations of cronyism, includes new details about Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan seeking to give a donor who worked at Metra a raise.

 

The Daily Herald issued a Freedom of Information Act request for the document in July 2013 and was denied by Metra, but it appealed the decision successfully to the Illinois attorney general's public access counselor. The request was headed for yet another denial and appeal, but intervention by current Metra Chairman Martin Oberman resulted in its release.

In a July 2013 interview, former Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran said former U.S. prosecutor Rodger Heaton "found nothing of substance" when he examined Clifford's allegations of political pressure over jobs and contracts. The controversy led to a public outcry and the exit of Clifford and most board members.

Heaton was hired by the board's attorneys, acting on the orders of O'Halloran. Heaton reported in June 2013 there was no evidence Clifford or any board directors acted illegally, according to the report released Monday.

But the findings lack specific conclusions about Clifford's contention that O'Halloran and former board Director Larry Huggins wanted to oust him for failing to give a raise to Metra employee Patrick Ward, a friend and political contributor of Madigan.

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Clifford asked Ward why he was "getting inquiries from Speaker Madigan" about the raise, Heaton wrote.

Ward told Clifford he spoke with Madigan "at a social function and had mentioned to Madigan in response to a question about how he was doing that he would like to be making more money but was doing well. Mr. Clifford advised Mr. Ward that his comments to Speaker Madigan were inappropriate," Heaton wrote. Ward subsequently left Metra and works for the state's Central Management Services.

Noting that Clifford wouldn't tolerate political influence in hiring, Heaton added that "it appears Mr. Clifford takes a very black and white approach on this issue. ... He seems unconcerned about the way the message was delivered or might be perceived."

Heaton notes that taking resumes and routing them to human resources to be handled along with other applicants with no preference being given would be permissible and "convey a different message to the official who presented them."

The conclusion is in stark contrast to Metra's new policy that requires any communications from a lawmaker or member of the public over jobs with a board member or employee be recorded on the agency's website.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Clifford told the Daily Herald Monday that "it is accurate to say that in my opinion there is no gray area when it comes to political patronage. Mr. O'Halloran and Mr. Huggins were clearly dissatisfied with my black and white approach to political patronage."

O'Halloran said Monday that Heaton's report "looks pretty accurate to me ... and as time goes on it will be more clear that what I said at the time (in July 2013 about the report's findings) was accurate."

Heaton also examined claims by Clifford that Huggins overstepped his authority in trying to increase the number of minority contractors working on the Englewood Flyover, a railway bridge on Chicago's South Side. But Heaton noted he was limited in fully investigating the allegations because he was unable to interview people outside Metra.

Huggins has denied any wrongdoing.

Heaton also said he couldn't resolve another issue where Clifford accused O'Halloran of trying to push out the agency's top lawyer and a procurement supervisor because of conflicting statements by the two men.

Madigan's staff confirmed the speaker had asked about increasing Ward's salary. The inquiry followed a request by Ward's own supervisor at Metra, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, adding it was withdrawn when Madigan was told there was a salary freeze at Metra. The General Assembly's inspector general found no wrongdoing after a separate inquiry concluded this spring.

The Heaton report cost $52,000, a Regional Transportation Authority audit found.

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