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Get to bottom of Metra mess

Phil Kadner columnist for SouthTown Star

Phil Kadner, columnist for the SouthTown Star

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Updated: July 14, 2013 2:29AM

I want Metra to spend more of my tax money.

No, not on severance packages; but lawsuits. In fact, I welcome them.

Metra board members contend they handed $740,000 over to their former CEO, Alex “Cash and Carry” Clifford, so he would resign without filing a lawsuit.

The claim is the lawsuit would have cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than the buyout.

I say go to court.

I don’t mind paying millions of dollars on a legal fight when a government body claims the hired hand didn’t do his job.

If it turns out Clifford wasn’t incompetent, if it turns out the Metra board was playing politics, I would consider the millions in court costs well spent.

I want to know what actually happened here.

In this case, the argument is the Metra board felt Clifford was doing a lousy job, made some really bad calls, and had to go.

Clifford has indicated he was released because he refused the requests of some board members to hire their friends.

He even wrote a memo to that effect.

And now Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has admitted he asked Clifford that a Metra employee be given a pay hike, even though the salaries of Metra employees were frozen at the time.

Madigan said he didn’t mean to apply any pressure. He was just making a request.

Madigan, the leader of the Democratic Party in Illinois, the fellow who (it can be argued) runs the entire state and controls the purse strings of every government agency, must have been laughing when he said that.

In any event, Clifford said “No” to the Madigan request.

So it now appears that severance package was hush money.

It’s fascinating how government bodies don’t mind spending millions on stupid court cases when it suits their purposes.

Chicago spent a bundle awhile back defending the police department after an off-duty cop was caught on a video camera beating the heck out of a bartender.

City officials said they didn’t want to settle out of court and set a precedent.

You don’t want every citizen thinking that if a cop knocks them around on camera and the department covers for him, the city is just going to give out money without a court fight.

See, when it’s the little guy battling the government, they make you go to court.

When it’s a CEO threatening to unveil a political scandal, he gets paid off.

I’ve seen this sort of thing happen time and again while covering suburban school boards.

School superintendents are given a pile of tax money to resign.

Why? The school board says it can’t say anything about the situation. That’s part of the deal.

All the while there are hints the superintendent was a really bad guy, maybe even a pedophile.

Or just maybe he refused to hire somebody’s wife and put them on the school payroll.

The taxpayer never knows. He just has to pay the tab.

“It’s for the good of the community,” the school board members always say. It will save us money in the long run.

Yet, that same school board will pay attorneys to fight a freedom-of-information request if a citizen wants to find out why a school-construction project went millions of dollars over budget.

I recall a school district that went to court to expel a student for being a passenger in a car that carried beer in the trunk to a homecoming game, even though the student didn’t know it. Witnesses said as much.

The school district lost that case. But it spent the tax money to take a stand on principle.

Well, I want my government leaders to know that I’m all for a good court fight if a CEO deserves to be fired. That’s a stand taxpayers can live with.

Let the hired help know that we won’t be blackmailed. Let them go to court and have their character smeared.

Shouldn’t a CEO who has been told to get out of town worry about that sort of thing?

When you pay a guy $718,000 to keep his mouth shut, there’s little doubt what’s going on.

A deal was cut with public money to keep the public in the dark.

Maybe taxpayers should file a lawsuit. They deserve their day in court.

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