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Could Metra consider rehiring ousted CEO Clifford? Hell, yes

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: September 24, 2013 6:37AM

The sole “hell no” vote against giving Alex Clifford a severance deal worth as much as $871,000 said Thursday he’d love to see Clifford return as CEO — but the Metra Board doesn’t have enough members to vote on the matter.

Metra Board member Jack Schaffer said he will ask to discuss the possibility of rehiring Clifford — an idea posed Wednesday by Clifford’s attorney — during a special Metra Board meeting that was still being arranged Thursday. One date under discussion is Sept. 6.

The special meeting would follow a scathing audit of Clifford’s separation agreement by the RTA, Metra’s financial overseer. RTA board members on Wednesday urged Metra to explore the possibility of tapping a $10 million insurance policy to cover some or all of the costs surrounding the June 21 deal that gave Clifford up to $871,000 to leave Metra eight months early. “Damage control” by outside lawyers and “crisis management” public relations firms cost taxpayers an additional $340,000, RTA documents indicate.

Clifford’s attorney, Michael Shakman, repeated Thursday that Clifford stands ready to talk about reopening his 26-month separation agreement in a way that would allow him to return to Metra as CEO.

“We’re here and if the phone rings, we’ll pick it up,’’ Shakman said.

Five of 11 Metra board members have resigned — some under pressure — following the tumult surrounding the hefty buyout. The six remaining members give the board a quorum and enough votes to do basic business. But eight votes are needed to hire a CEO.

Of the six remaining members, three have written letters of recommendation on Clifford’s behalf — Don DeGraff, Arlene Mulder and William Widmer III. A fourth, Shaffer, said Thursday that “I personally would love to see him [Clifford] come back.”

However, Schaffer said, “We need at least eight votes. That’s a stumbling block.”

Even so, “it’s something that has to be explored,’’ Schaffer said. “It’s something we have to discuss, just as I think we have to discuss if we can use any money from that insurance policy [to cover severence-related expenses]. If you don’t try, shame on you.’’

Schaffer said Acting Metra Chairman Jack Partelow has been polling board members for their availability to meet in a special session on Sept. 6, before the next scheduled monthly meeting on Sept. 20. Members are expected to review the RTA audit and discuss their next options, Schaffer said.

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