A confidential email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request has raised new questions at Metra concerning ousted CEO Alex Clifford, with at least one state legislator calling for a federal investigation.
The email, dated April 5, is from Clifford to Metra Board member Jack Schaffer. In the message, Clifford refers to documents which he said he never should have seen. He indicated Schaffer sent him those documents in a previous email in March.
"Based on a limited review of a portion of the attachments, my lawyers concluded that the attachments were likely communications protected by the Board’s attorney-client privilege, and that you, as an individual board member, probably are not authorized to share the attachments with me," Clifford wrote.
"Because the attachments are likely privileged, upon advice of my lawyers, I intend to delete the email and the attachments," he continued.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Schaffer said he recalled that the email in question did contain an internal document from Metra counsel which was essentially a "list of Alex’s deficiencies as CEO."
Schaffer, a Clifford supporter, said at the time, he wanted the embattled CEO to be brought before the full board so that his accusers would confront him directly.
"I get a memo itemizing the things they think he hadn’t done correctly," he said. "It was really pretty specious."
"That document was very widespread in the agency," he continued. "I wanted him…to have a chance to answer these reasons why he hadn’t done a good job."
Schaffer said it was his belief that the document had been disseminated so widely that he was not doing anything wrong. He said now, if he had it to do over again, he would simply have summarized the contents and would not have forwarded the legal memo in its entirety.
"I sent it to him so he could issue a written rebuttal," he said. "The information there was hardly a secret."
But State Representative Jack Franks, a frequent Metra critic, sees otherwise.
"I’m deeply troubled by it," Franks said. "I wonder if these documents influenced Mr. Clifford, and he used that as leverage to get $800,000 from taxpayers."
Clifford leveled charges that he was being squeezed out of the job after complaining of political meddling from Springfield. Metra board members said they gave him the huge settlement to avoid a costly lawsuit stemming from his ouster. An Regional Transportation Authority audit has concluded that the board erred in settling with Clifford, because an insurance policy would have paid any legal costs associated with his firing.
"It’s obvious everything they had should be attorney-client privilege," Franks said, referring to the document which Schaffer forwarded to Clifford. "By tipping Clifford off, he may have cost us a million dollars."
The incident occurred at a time when Schaffer maintains the battle lines were already being drawn at Metra between those loyal to then-chairman Brad O’Halloran and those who supported Clifford.
"The O’Halloran people had practically taped these things to the bathroom walls," he said. "I didn’t give him anything he hadn’t gotten from five other sources."
Franks, who makes no secret of personal animosity with Schaffer, disagreed.
"One could make the argument that he didn’t make these allegations until he knew his job was on the line," he said. "I think the feds ought to come in and look at this."
As he has previously, he called again for Schaffer to resign, something the Metra Board member says he has no intention of doing, especially since his term on the board is about to expire anyway.
"I’ve got nine months to go," he said. "And no force on Earth would make me stay beyond that."