Metra board chairman quits amidst political controversy - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Metra board chairman quits amidst political controversy

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CHICAGO (AP) -- The chairman of scandal-tarnished Metra tendered his resignation Thursday, citing the unrelenting criticism he has faced in the wake of the buyout of the commuter rail agency's former chief executive officer.

Brad O'Halloran announced his resignation in a letter to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, who picked him to represent the county on the Metra board.

In his letter, O'Halloran says he determined that as long as he is chairman and a member of the board, the issues facing Metra would not be addressed.

O'Halloran has faced blistering criticism after details of a $718,000 buyout of former Metra CEO Alex Clifford's contract became known. Clifford claims he was pushed out for resisting pressure from Illinois politicians, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, on hiring and salary issues.

"Unfortunately, a media and political frenzy has been stirred up, primarily related to the Alex Clifford separation agreement," O'Halloran wrote. "I have come to the sad conclusion that, so long as I am chairman and a member of the board, the truly critical issues facing Metra will be left aside while the focus remains on the next big headline or attention-grabbing quotation."

O'Halloran is the third member of the Metra board to resign. Earlier this week, DuPage County board member Paul Darley quit. Kane County board member Mike McCoy also has quit.

In his letter, O'Halloran recounts his dealings with Clifford, writing that in March he directed Metra to immediately report to the inspector general the nonspecific allegations of political pressure and patronage Clifford told a board member. He noted the allegations involved events that occurred a year earlier. O'Halloran said he isn't certain why Clifford waited to report the incidents but said he believes it is because Clifford became aware of dissatisfaction with his performance.

O'Halloran said the separation agreement with Clifford was done at the recommendation of lawyers, who thought it better than incurring of the expense of his threatened litigation.

"Like all compromises, it was more than we wanted to pay and significantly less than Mr. Clifford and his attorney wanted from Metra," O'Halloran wrote.

The internal battle between Metra's board and its former CEO has added to the woes of a transit agency that has seen its on-time performance lag in recent months. The large severance package for Clifford announced June 21 angered state lawmakers who criticized the blow to taxpayers from an agency still trying to move forward after Clifford's predecessor was accused of defrauding Metra out of about $475,000.

Clifford, who was hired in February 2011 by the Metra board to clean up the agency, alleged Madigan pushed Metra staff for a pay raise for a political pal and that Madigan and another politician also sought patronage hires. Clifford has also described an episode in which he was asked to simply write a $50,000 check to an organization of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush's choosing.

Madigan has said that he asked senior staff at Metra to consider a pay raise for an associate who was employed there but withdrew the recommendation after Clifford expressed discomfort with it. Clifford said Madigan and a member of the Legislature's Latino caucus made inappropriate requests for hiring favors.

The Legislative Ethics Commission has voted to investigate whether Madigan and fellow Democratic state Reps. Luis Arroyo and Elizabeth Hernandez interfered with Metra personnel matters.

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