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California here he comes: Ex-Metra CEO Clifford in line for transit gig

Former MetrCEO Alex Clifford pictured here showing off  new electrical outlets Metrrail cars 2013. | Sun-Times files

Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, pictured here showing off new electrical outlets in the Metra rail cars in 2013. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: April 29, 2014 6:34AM

Metra could shave more than $200,000 from its potential $871,000 separation deal with ex-CEO Alex Clifford if Clifford is tapped Friday to serve as head of a California bus system, officials here say.

Clifford could pull down two full time salaries for about three months — $22,993 a month from Metra and $15,083 a month from the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District — if he starts his new post May 9 as expected, documents indicate.

Santa Cruz METRO board members are expected to approve Clifford’s five-year appointment Friday as CEO/general manager, starting at $181,000 a year, said the agency’s chairman, Dene Bustichi.

Under Clifford’s controversial separation deal with Metra, through Aug. 11, 2014, he will continue receive his full Metra salary of $22,993 a month, or almost $276,000 a year, including raises that kicked in retroactively and since his last day on the job, Metra documents indicate.

From Sept. 11 to Aug. 11, 2015, Metra will pay Clifford the difference between what he would have been making at Metra — including as of January yet another raise, to $23,683 a month — and his Santa Cruz salary, according to the separation agreement.

Metra also may be obligated to cover up to $78,000 in moving expenses under the deal.

Because Clifford is starting a new job before his separation agreement ends on Aug. 11, 2015, Metra expects the severance package to ultimately cost about $668,000 instead of the maximum $871,000, Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile said Thursday.

Santa Cruz Metro serves 5.3 million riders a year on 112 buses. Metra, in contrast, provided more than 82 million rides last year as the nation’s second-largest commuter rail system.

Santa Cruz board members were impressed with Clifford’s previous job, as an executive overseeing bus service at a Los Angeles County transit agency, Bustichi said. In addition, he said, Clifford is a California native who has relatives in California and seemed interested in returning there long term.

“We just feel he’s a good fit,’’ Bustichi said.

Clifford kicked up a storm last year when he resigned June 21 with 8 months left on his contact and a 26-month severance package in hand. Then-Metra Board President Brad O’Halloran insisted the deal was cheaper than facing a threatened whistleblower lawsuit by Clifford. Evidence later revealed that Clifford had accused O’Halloran and another board member of trying to dump him because he would not “play ball” on patronage and contracts — a charge O’Halloran called “hooey.’’

Bustichi said Clifford responded with “a certain amount of integrity’’ to the “political pressure” at Metra and “it seems to me he dealt with it in an upfront and upstanding way.’’


Twitter @rosalindrossi

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