Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran finally got it right Thursday evening when he announced he is resigning.
His continued tenure on Metra’s board was indeed a distraction, as he said, from Metra’s need to move on to the bigger challenges of serving Metra riders. But the mess he leaves behind was in large part of his own making, best we can tell, and he would have done better to shoulder at least some of the blame.
In announcing his resignation, O’Halloran decried the “media frenzy” surrounding the way former Metra CEO Alex Clifford was shoved out the door with an enormous golden parachute, which could run to more than $700,000. It had, he said, become a “political football.”
But it was not a football. It was 700,000 dollars, the hard-earned money of taxpayers and commuters, spent to make Clifford shut up and go away.
Two other Metra directors already have resigned, and the remainder of the board should follow O’Halloran out the door. What he said about himself on NBC 5 news Thursday evening holds true for the others: “If I remove myself from that, maybe Metra can get back to the business of what they do best, and that is moving the people of this city from spot to spot.”
O’Halloran complained that “no one really wants to look at the facts,” and he disputed allegations in Clifford’s now-famous memo outlining alleged efforts by political insiders to get favors from Metra.
But it was more than Clifford’s memo that created this firestorm. It was also the huge price tag for Clifford’s separation agreement. Neither O’Halloran nor any other Metra board member has adequately explained why, if Clifford was just talking through his hat, they paid him so much to leave.
One of Clifford’s allegations was that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan sought a pay raise for one of his political supporters who at the time worked for Metra. Though Madigan said he merely made a recommendation and denied doing anything improper, that seemed to add credence to Clifford’s allegations.
To his credit, O’Halloran sought to bring former U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins to investigate the Metra mess, but Collins, who led the prosecution of former Gov. George Ryan, backed out at the last minute because of a conflict of interest. That just focused more attention on the allegations — and created more doubt about Metra’s leadership.
As for the Madigan allegation, O’Halloran told NBC 5 he has never had a conversation with Madigan and has never met him. And he is upset that Clifford’s memo is being “treated as gospel.”
O’Halloran’s got a point there. As much as things smell, we have yet to sort out completely just what went down, and maybe we never will.
But most of all, O’Halloran’s right about this: For the good of Metra, he had to go.