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Metra chief to explain ex-CEO’s severance to RTA board

Metrchairman Brad O'Halloran. 2012 File Photo. | Matthew Grot-- Sun-Times Media

Metra chairman Brad O'Halloran. 2012 File Photo. | Matthew Grotto -- Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 4, 2013 6:29AM

The chairman of the Metra Board will address a special meeting of the RTA next week to discuss a controversial severance package that could reap former Metra CEO Alex Clifford up to nearly $750,000 over the next 26 months.

The appearance of Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran before Metra’s oversight agency comes amid a Regional Transportation Authority review of the Clifford deal — as well as possible legislative and Cook County hearings on the matter.

RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. last week asked RTA staff to determine if the golden parachute given Clifford, who had eight months to go on his contract, was “fiscally prudent.’’ The RTA signs off on Metra’s budget and distributes funds to it.

“As the area’s transit fiscal oversight agency, the RTA needs to assure our two million riders and all the stakeholders in our transit system that we will not waver from our responsibilities,” Gates said at that time.

Gates has since invited O’Halloran to address a special meeting of the RTA board, according to RTA Chief of Staff Jordan Matyas. The RTA announced Tuesday that O’Halloran will “present to the RTA Board” during a “special” July 10 meeting, but did not specify the topic.

In a written statement later Tuesday, O’Halloran said he plans to discuss Clifford’s separation agreement, as well as “the Metra Board’s plans to move the agency forward to improve the reliability of service for our commuters and the region.’’

“I appreciate the opportunity afforded by Chairman Gates to address the RTA board,’’ O’Halloran said.

Also Tuesday, Cook County Commissioner Pete Silvestri said he believed he had more than enough votes — 13 though only nine are needed — to hold a Cook County committee hearing on the Clifford deal.

Silvestri noted that 11 Cook County Board members have weighted votes in appointing four of the Metra Board members, and “If we have the right to appoint them, I think we have the right to know their rationale for such an expensive severance package.’’

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Clifford’s deal allows him to reap at least two 3 percent pay raises during the 26 months after his June 21 resignation.

The raises come even though Clifford’s contract entitles him to no severance if he resigns, and calls for raises tied to “performance,’’ noted State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), chairman of the House State Government Administration Committee.

Franks called the idea of giving someone a “performance” raise months after they stopped working “tantamount to lunacy.” He said the Metra Board that approved the deal “ought to be locked up. . . . Keep them away from our money.’’

In explaining the package, O’Halloran said it followed “differences of opinion” over “how Metra moves forward,’’ “who we need leading this organization” and Clifford’s “legal rights under his contract.’’

O’Halloran said Clifford had “agreed to resign” subject to a “separation agreement,’’ which even O’Halloran conceded was “generous.’’

The deal gives Clifford $442.237 for the eight months left on his contract and the six months after that. For the next 12 months, O’Halloran, said Clifford also could reap any where from “0 to $309,390,’’ based on the difference in salary between any lesser-paying new job and what he would have received, with raises, from Metra.

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