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Quinn signs bill yanking long-term benefits for Metra, other board members

Chicago MetrBoard Chairman Brad O'Halloran

Chicago Metra Board Chairman Brad O'Halloran

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Updated: August 25, 2013 6:40AM

Fueled by a growing uproar over a Metra patronage mess, Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday signed into law a bill barring new Metra and other transit board members from receiving taxpayer-funded health care and pension benefits after they leave such boards.

“Especially considering the recent problems at Metra, Gov. Quinn does not think it’s appropriate to be providing gold-plated pensions for these part-time, appointed positions,’’ said Brooke Anderson, a Quinn spokeswoman.

A lead sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), also called it “ridiculous” that Metra, CTA, Pace and RTA board members had been entitled to “free health care for life” after “going to a meeting or two a month” during their board service.

Meanwhile, Republicans calls for the ouster of Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran mounted Tuesday, as two more House Republicans signed onto a resolution calling for O’Halloran’s resignation. For his part, O’Halloran said he has no intention of resigning and still has the support of his political sponsor to the Metra board.

The resolution calls O’Halloran an “instrumental” figure in the passage of a $718,000, 26-month buyout of Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who had only eight months left on his contract when he resigned June 21.

His buyout and the circumstances surrounding it have become the subject of investigations by two inspectors general, the focus of an RTA audit, and the topic of an Illinois House Mass Transit Committee hearing.

Heat on the deal intensified after allegations emerged that powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) had pressured Clifford to hire or promote two Metra employees, and Clifford charged that his refusal to do so drove attempts to oust him.

The sole Metra board member who voted against the golden parachute — which included two retroactive and two prospective raises — has called it largely “hush money.” Under it, Clifford agreed not to sue board members and both sides promised not to talk about the deal, except before oversight agencies.

House Resolution 521 charges Clifford was given “far in excess of what would be considered normal” under a deal that was improperly orchestrated “in secrecy.’’

It calls on O’Halloran to resign as Metra Board chair for his “poor and inappropriate handling” of public funds that bankrolled Clifford’s termination agreement. The resolution asks remaining Metra Board members to elect a new chair who will operate in a “transparent and open manner.’’

State Rep. David Harris (R-Mount Prospect) filed the resolution Friday, with Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) as chief co-sponsor. Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) jumped on board Monday and Reps. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) and Ed Sullivan Jr. (R-Mundelein) joined as cosponsors Tuesday.

The resolution needs 60 of 118 House votes to pass, but Harris and McSweeney noted that the Legislature is currently on summer break. They expected the proposal, which would not have the full force of a law, to gain steam as an October legislative session nears.

O’Halloran told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday that his political sponsor to the Metra Board — Republican Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman — “absolutely” supports him.

The Sun-Times could not reach Gorman Tuesday but O’Halloran said “I talked to her today. I know she supports me.’’

O’Halloran said he isn’t considering stepping down.

“Why would I do so? I need to see this through, and I intend to,’’ he said.

His key focus at the moment, O’Halloran said, is to find someone “of the stature’’ of hard-charging former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to investigate allegations in Clifford’s April 3 memo, as well as recommend ways to address problems the memo and Clifford’s testimony raised.

Collins bowed out Monday at the 11th hour before even starting the job, citing “potential conflict issues.’’

However, McSweeney called the hiring of Collins or a replacement for Collins “a complete waste of money,” a “mistake” and just one more reason “why O’Halloran needs to resign.”

He said he had far more faith in the work of the two inspectors general looking into the Metra mess than an attorney appointed by the Metra board.

The attempt to hire Collins came after Metra spent $52,400 as of June 17 on former Downstate U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton and two legal colleagues at a total $885 an hour to investigate a key April 3 memo in which Clifford, among other things, accused Madigan of pressuring him to give one Madigan supporter a raise and a second Metra employee a promotion.

However, O’Halloran said Heaton only was charged with investigating Clifford’s April 3 memo. Metra also needs recommendations on how to move forward as its oversight agencies want to know “what are we going to do to proactively stop this in the future,’’ O’Halloran said.

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