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Probe of contacts between Metra Board member and ex-CEO sought

Former MetrCEO Alex Clifford testifies before Regional Transit Authority board Chicago July 17 2013.  |  Scott Eisen~AP

Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford testifies before the Regional Transit Authority board in Chicago on July 17, 2013. | Scott Eisen~AP

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:40AM

Email and phone exchanges between Metra Board member Jack Schaffer and ex-CEO Alex Clifford should be investigated to see if Schaffer leaked confidential information that could have affected Clifford’s buyout, a Cook County commissioner has urged in a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn.

In addition, a Metra spokesman revealed Friday that the agency is “reviewing the situation” surrounding a March 12 email to Clifford from Schaffer — the only board member to vote “hell no” against Clifford’s June 21 separation agreement.

The developments are the latest controversy to emerge from the Metra Board’s decision to award Clifford as much as $871,000 over 26 months to bail out of his contract eight months early and keep mum about the deal, unless questioned by authorities.

Schaffer conceded to the Chicago Sun-Times that he forwarded Clifford a March 12 email from Metra attorney Andrew Greene to board members, outlining what some detractors saw as Clifford “deficiencies.’’

However, a lot of the accusations were “specious,’’ Schaffer said, and he believed Clifford deserved a chance to rebut them in writing after being blocked from doing so in closed session.

About three weeks later, Clifford responded by email that based on his lawyers’ “limited review” of the March 12 email and its attachments, the information was “likely privileged” so, Clifford wrote Schaffer, he was deleting them.

Sending the email was “a mistake on my part,’’ Schaffer told the Sun-Times. “He [Clifford] spotted it. He did the right thing [by deleting it].’’

However, Schaffer said, the privileged information “was hardly the map of the invasion beach. This was pretty common knowledge.’’ At the time, Schaffer said, he did not know Clifford would threaten a whistleblower lawsuit.

However, Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman on Friday wrote Quinn that the March 12 email from Schaffer to Clifford was “questionable.”

Gorman asked the governor to instruct his new transit taskforce, as well as the state inspector general, to do a “forensic audit” of email and telephone exchanges between Schaffer and Clifford.

Gorman questioned if Schaffer breached his “fiduciary responsibility” as a board member by sending the privileged email, and whether the information could have potentially compromised the separation agreement.

“If so,’’ wrote Gorman, “would this be grounds for halting the [settlement] agreement?”

In an email to the Sun-Times, Clifford said the March 12 email “did not play a role” in a later April 3 email he wrote contending that two board members were trying to oust him for refusing patronage demands, nor in “a possible whistleblower suit.’’


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