The former CEO of the Metra commuter rail service spoke publicly Wednesday about the controversy surrounding his resignation and allegations of political clout being used to affect hiring within the agency. Michelle Relerford reports.
The former CEO of the Metra commuter rail service spoke publicly Wednesday about the controversy surrounding his resignation and allegations of political clout being used to affect hiring within the agency.
Clifford appeared at a Regional Transportation Authority board meeting to discuss an April 3 memo that detailed alleged improprieties by House Speaker Michael Madigan and other politicians, as well as the events leading up to his decision to leave the agency and the $718,000 in severance pay he received.
The buyout agreement had prevented Clifford from speaking about the details of his resignation, but Metra attorneys released him from the confidentiality clause. All of the questions from RTA members were provided to Clifford in advance.
Clifford said it was the Metra board that first approached him with a buyout offer to resign from his position.
"I didn't want to leave this job. I loved this job," Clifford said Wednesday.
Clifford said he believed the generous severance pay was to compensate him for all the damage done to him by Metra and his ability to get another job. Clifford said he felt he was being "railroaded" in regards to his performance review.
Metra lawyer Joseph Gagliardo told the RTA board the severance pay was not "hush money," and was "100 percent about him (Clifford) trying to get another job."
Clifford's April 3 memo also recounts several alleged episodes of patronage politics and asks board members to back him against what he said were efforts to force him out for not playing along.
One of the incidents involved Rep. Luis Arroyo, who Clifford said made clear that he wanted a deputy director position filled with a candidate recommended by the legislative Latino caucus. Clifford told the RTA board that he let Arroyo know that "times are different," and that applicants "will come through the front door."
Around the same time, Clifford said he was made aware that Madigan wanted a Metra employee named Patrick Ward, a personal associate and political donor, to receive a pay raise. He said Madigan also requested that another individual receive a job with Metra.
But on Wednesday, Clifford said he wasn't worried about Madigan's request because as long as he didn't comply, he didn't think it was illegal. He characterized the request as a "moral and ethical flub."
"I didn't believe the law was broken because I didn't complete the request," Clifford said. "This did this not become an issue until these actions had a impact on my review. My refusal to give in to political pressue was going to lead to an unfair review and not have my contract renewed, so that's when I started to gather mounds of information between February and April."
But the Legislative Inspector General's office would like a bit more information about what happened, and would like to speak with Madigan.
"We're gonna find out the extent of what it is that it's alleged that he did and the next logical step would be for me to talk to him about it," Inspector General Thomas Homer said.
Clifford specifically pointed the finger at current Metra chairman Brad O'Halloran and former Metra chief Larry Huggins for critizing his conduct for not playing ball with insiders in Springfield because of the affect it could have on funding for the transportation agency.
O'Halloran also took questions from the RTA board and called Clifford's claims "a whole lot of hooey."
"If I thought there was pressure by Madigan, why would I turn this over OEIG?" O'Halloran said, referring to the Office of Executive Inspector General.
Huggins denied putting pressure on Clifford on behalf of Madigan and described Clifford to the RTA board as "one of the greatest spin doctors I've ever heard in my entire life."
"At the end of the day, the truth speaks for itself," Huggins said.
Clifford's predecessor, Phil Pagano, was accused of defrauding the agency out of about $475,000. He killed himself in 2010 by stepping in front of a Metra train.