Former CEO Alex Clifford says his refusal to play politics led to his dismissal. Phil Rogers reports.
An until-now secret memo described as a "smoking gun" and authored by ousted Metra CEO Alex Clifford, alleges political meddling at the transit agency on the part of certain legislators, and aquiescence by some board members frightened of political clout.
When Clifford wrote the April 3rd memo to the Metra board, he was convinced he was about to be fired, and that a proposed job performance review was a "sham" perpetrated by his two enemies on the board.
"In the last year I have refused on several occasions to make employment-related decisions based upon political sponsorship or support of an employee or applicant by members of the Illinois legislature," Clifford wrote. He said current chairman Brad O'Halloran and former Metra chief Larry Huggins had criticized his conduct, and suggested they faulted him for not playing ball with insiders in Springfield.
Specifically, Clifford pointed to a March 2012 incident where he said Representative Luis Arroyo made clear he wanted a deputy director position filled with a candidate recommended by the legislative Latino caucus. He said Huggins "told me he agreed with Representative Arroyo's request."
At the same time, Clifford said he was made aware that House Speaker Michael Madigan wanted a Metra employee named Patrick Ward, a personal associate, to receive a pay raise. He said Madigan also requested that another individual receive a job with Metra.
When Huggins inquired about the event, Clifford said "I told Mr. Huggins that I could not accede to that request under the law. An argument with Mr. Huggins ensued over my failure to do so."
More recently, at a time not specified, the ousted Metra CEO said O'Halloran also faulted him for not caving to Madigan's alleged demands.
"He told me that he needed to arrange a meeting with Speaker Madigan, to assess 'what damage I have done' to Metra and its future funding by my refusal to accede to speaker Madigan's requests."
Madigan has denied the allegations. Spokesman Steve Brown said Friday night that "that's not the way Mike Madigan works," noting that "if you look at the record, there's been no change in the funding."
Clifford further alleged that his political opponents attempted to meddle in his operation of the transit agency, and that Huggins especially became involved in a dispute over minority contracting at a multi-million dollar bridge project in the Englewood neighborhood.
"It would be very unfortunate if someone who was hired to run Metra in accordance with the law after a major scandal, were to be terminated because he did not play ball with politicians seeking political hiring," Clifford wrote.
Late Friday, both Huggins and O'Halloran denied Clifford's allegations.
"I have never intervened with Metra's staff regarding any jobs or contracts," O'Halloran said. "The Board attempted a fair and unbiased review process of Mr. Clifford that was upended by this threatened legal strategy."
Huggins disputed Clifford's account of the Englewood project.
"This project is taking place in an African-American community, and important leaders like Congressman Bobby Rush and Danny Davis were justifiably upset over the lack of community representation in Clifford's original construction plans," he said. "Everything I did to help resolve that controversy with members of Congress was done in concert with federal and state transportation officials and legal counsel."