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Metra chief: ‘No regrets’ about ex-CEO’s severance

Alex Clifford

Alex Clifford

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Updated: August 11, 2013 6:41AM

Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran Tuesday described a golden parachute that could reap Metra’s former CEO more than $700,000 over 26 months as “a business decision’’ — and one he had “no regrets” about.

Speaking one day before addressing the RTA on the same topic, O’Halloran said the attorney for ex-CEO Alex Clifford had told the Metra board’s attorney that without the deal, Clifford would have sued, even if Clifford served out the eight months on his contract.

That would have cost an estimated “millions” more than the severance package worth up to a newly-downscaled maximum figure of $718,468, O’Halloran said. Plus, letting Clifford serve out his contract would have left Metra frozen in “leadership paralysis” for eight months, O’Halloran told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Why did we do it? It’s a business decision,’’ said Metra’s board chairman since December. “I have no regrets,’’ except, he said with a chuckle, “maybe taking this spot.’’

One lawmaker has questioned why the deal allowed two 3 percent “performance” raises through August 2015, long after Clifford stopped “performing’’ a job for Metra on June 21.

But in addition, officials conceded for the first time Tuesday that the golden parachute also included two additional 3 percent “performance” salary bumps applied retroactively, as early as Jan. 1, 2012. All were necessary as part of the “settlement,’’ O’Halloran said.

For his part, Clifford said by email Tuesday that many of O’Halloran’s comments were “not accurate” but he could not immediately provide details. . Clifford said his lawyer was talking to Metra’s lawyers about what Clifford could say about them at yet another hearing on the matter -- on Thursday, before the Illinois House Transit Committee.

Since the June 21 deal was announced, O’Halloran said during an interview at the Union League Club where he is a member,“There’s been a lot of aspersions cast at me and the board. But the problem is most of the critics have been flat-out wrong.”

The “most reckless charge,’’ O’Halloran said, was that the board “paid Clifford hush money.” The confidentiality part of the deal is “standard” in such settlements, O’Halloran said.

In early March, O’Halloran said, a Metra board member told Clifford that his contract, due to expire in February 2014, “might not be renewed.”

O’Halloran said Clifford told the board member he blamed any potential non-renewal of his contract on “his refusal to go along with politically motivated patronage and contract requests.” Though Clifford provided no details, O’Halloran said he moved to forward the allegations to the state executive inspector general.

Metra also hired its own investigator to look into the allegations, but OHalloran said he has been told the investigator “found nothing.’’

O’Halloran said Clifford and Metra’s board had been locked in a “legal dispute” but he could not go into details about it — although he said he might provide more information during his appearance at a special Regional Transportation Authority meeting Wednesday. The two sides even tried mediation before the board agreed to the severance deal in exchange for Clifford’s resignation, he said.

O’Halloran said he weighed not just the cost of potential “legal fees but the cost of no leadership. . . . You can’t just sit and be paralyzed” for eight months.

Said O’Halloran: “Basically, I feel we made the best possible decision.”

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