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Legislators To Hold Hearing On Metra's Severance Deal For Ex-CEO

CHICAGO (STMW) -- All 11 Metra Board members — as well as former Metra CEO Alex Clifford — are being asked to appear July 11 before a legislative committee delving into a hefty severance package that could reap Clifford nearly $750,000 over more than two years, lawmakers said Wednesday.

The hearing of the House Mass Transit Committee chaired by state Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago) will be the second hearing in two days concerning Clifford's June 21 resignation, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran is scheduled to address a special meeting of the RTA board, which acts as Metra's financial overseer, one day earlier, on July 10. RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. invited O'Halloran to speak in the midst of an RTA review of whether the Clifford deal was "fiscally prudent.''

In addition, Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri has said he has the votes to hold a hearing of a subcommittee of the Cook County commissioners, 11 of whom appoint four of the Metra Board members.

Said Silvestri: "If we have the right to appoint them, I think we have the right to know their rationale for such an expensive severance package.''

Mell said Wednesday she will be inviting all 11 Metra Board members as well as Clifford as witnesses to the 11 a.m. July 11 House committee hearing on the 6th floor of the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

Mell and state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) have questioned why the Metra Board didn't buy Clifford out of the eight months left on his contract or let him serve out his contract. Clifford's hiring agreement entitled him to no severance should he resign, and six months pay if he was fired without cause.

Instead, Metra Board members approved a 26-month severance package that could reap Clifford two raises and up to $750,000 without an extra day of work at Metra.

O'Halloran has said Clifford "agreed to resign" following "differences of opinion" on "how Metra moves forward," on "who we need leading this organization,'' and on Clifford's "legal rights under his contract.'' Clifford's severance deal was "generous," O'Halloran conceded, but "a small price to pay" to take Metra in a different direction and resolve a "legal dispute."

Franks, who plans to join Mell's committee for the July 11 hearing, said he was also troubled by confidentiality and "no-disparagement" provisions in the deal that prohibit the parties from talking about Clifford's departure, except to oversight agencies, or from saying anything "disparaging" about each other.

"Why should there be confidentiality? Why should there be no disparagement?" Franks asked. "Secrecy rubs me the wrong way when public money is involved.''

Under the separation agreement, the Metra Board agreed to pay Clifford $442,237 for the eight months left on his contract and the six months after that, plus up to $307,390 for an extra 12 months to cover the difference in salary between any new lesser-paying job and what Clifford would have received — after at least two raises — at Metra.

In addition, Clifford will be reimbursed for up to $75,000 in attorneys fees, and receive up to $78,000 in reimburseable moving expenses.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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