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Metra board discusses its executive director’s job performance

Metrchairman Brad O'Halloran. 2012 File Photo. | Matthew Grot-- Sun-Times Media

Metra chairman Brad O'Halloran. 2012 File Photo. | Matthew Grotto -- Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 14, 2013 6:23AM

Metra board members met for some two hours in a special closed session Friday, discussing the job performance of executive director Alex Clifford, whose contract expires in 10 months, a board member said.

The special meeting occurred against the backdrop of Clifford’s attempts to meet one-on-one with board members just as they try to nail down a process for determining if his $252,500-a-year contract should be renewed, one member said.

Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran did not talk to reporters afterward about the subject of the closed-door session, which he called a week before Metra’s regular monthly meeting.

And although Clifford was not called into the special executive session on a “personnel” matter, “he knew exactly what we were talking about,’’ said Metra board member Mike McCoy, who represents Kane County.

Clifford’s performance was discussed, McCoy said.

McCoy said he believes it is not too early to start discussing how to determine whether Clifford’s contract should be renewed by next February — a subject a committee has taken up.

“I think we started at the right time, but some stuff occurred that threw it into a shambles, that disrupted the whole process we were trying to do,’’ McCoy said.

That included Clifford’s attempts to meet individually with board members, McCoy said.

McCoy said Clifford tried to meet with him individually to “go through an annual review’’ of his performance, but he declined. Others have taken Clifford up on the offer, he confirmed.

“While we were trying to develop a formal process for his evaluation, at the same time he was going around, trying to have individual meetings with board members. Some things arose out of those individual meetings that led us to re-evaluate our process,’’ McCoy said.

“I believe he wanted to define his own evaluation process. . . . We have a committee that’s in the process of doing that and I think we should do it, without input from him . . . . I think it’s the most important thing the board does.’’

Clifford, a former executive with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was hired in February of 2011 to clean up an agency reeling from the financial investigation and suicide of executive director Phil Pagano.

Pagano, 60, stepped in front of a Metra train in May 2010 amid allegations he had taken $475,000 in unapproved vacation pay.

Under Clifford’s tenure, the suburban rail system stopped using capital funds to cover operating expenses and upgraded stations.

It also instituted the biggest fare hike in the agency’s history, followed by a jump in the cost of its popular 10-ride ticket. In January, the agency doled out $1.4 million in raises and benefits to 300 non-union employees whom it said were making “below-market-average” wages.

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