Kadner: Brad O’Halloran on the Metra scandal
By Phil Kadner email@example.com July 16, 2013 9:58PM
Chicago Metra Board Chairman Brad OÕHalloran addresses questions regarding former Metra CEO Alex Clifford's controversial severance package at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 19, 2013 1:57PM
Metra Board chairman Brad O’Halloran maintained Tuesday that he did nothing wrong or illegal and said Metra’s chief executive should’ve asked an inspector general to look into problems he listed in an internal memo.
Alex Clifford, the ousted Metra CEO who recently received more than $700,000 to resign, is expected to testify today at a hearing by the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees Metra.
It would be the first time Clifford had spoken about his memorandum, which contends that his resistance to political pressure cost him his job.
O’Halloran, 58, an Orland Park trustee, became the first Metra Board chairman from the Southland in December. A graduate of Notre Dame University (he received undergraduate and MBA degrees there), he’s now the university’s director of regional development.
During a telephone conversation, O’Halloran told me that he received Clifford’s memo (dated April 3) on March 10 and two days later turned it over to state’s inspector general.
“If Clifford thought something improper or illegal was taking place, that’s what he should have done,” O’Halloran said.
“Instead, he waited nearly a year, and most of this stuff, the three big issues — allegations of the Latino caucus trying to influence hiring, Madigan’s requests, the Englewood Flyover incident — occurred nine months to a year before the memo was written.
“At the time the memo was written, Clifford had already hired a lawyer, knew his contract would not be renewed and knew he was on the way out. That’s why the memo was written.”
In addition to giving the memo to the state inspector general, O’Halloran said he asked Metra to bring in an outside counsel, Rodger Heaton, a former federal prosecutor from Central Illinois, to “investigate all the allegations and determine if anything illegal had occurred.”
“His answer was ‘No,’ nothing illegal had taken place,” O’Halloran said.
As for the $700,000-plus payment to Clifford that many have referred to as “hush money,” he said it looked like a “good deal” for the Metra board at the time.
“Our lawyer talked to his lawyer, and their demands (for a settlement) were ridiculous,” O’Halloran said.
Eventually, a former Cook County Circuit Court judge was called in to mediate the labor dispute.
“After several meetings, he made it clear to both sides that they should reach an agreement. Clifford’s attorney (Michael Shakman) made it clear that any lawsuit was going to cost us millions of dollars to litigate,” O’Halloran said.
“In the end, under the terms of the agreement we reached, if Clifford obtained another job in 14 months, and we expected he would as a former top executive, we would have owed him only $307,000. ... We would not have had to pay the full amount.
“And we owed him about $200,000 in salary under the terms of his existing contract. So that seemed like a good deal at the time.”
On a TV broadcast this week, Metra board member Jack Schaffer said Clifford had brought up each of the allegations contained in his memo at board meetings when they occurred and members did nothing.
“We have legal staff looking over the (closed)-session minutes and recordings of those meetings right now to see if anything was said,” O’Halloran told me.
“But I don’t recall anything like that at a public meeting. He certainly never said anything like, ‘I think some illegal activity is taking place’ or ‘I believe someone is attempting to use improper influence.’
“But some of these things were very public. They occurred at public meetings and were written about in newspapers. Like the Englewood Flyover thing, which brought a lot of heat, a lot of public pressure on the board.”
The Englewood Flyover was a $90 million railroad bridge project through Chicago’s Englewood community on the South Side.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), among others, claimed that not enough contracts were given to minority businesses nor were sufficient minorities employed on the project. A Metra board member, Larry Huggins, apparently began meeting with Rush to work out an accommodation.
Clifford looked at that as both a usurpation of his powers as Metra CEO and a violation of the rules governing Metra contracts because a contractor had been approved for the project and agreed to Metra’s minority hiring terms.
“There was less than 1 percent African-American participation in that contract,” O’Halloran said. “The concerns expressed by the community were valid.”
He defended the Legislature’s Latino caucus asking for more Latinos to be hired in executive positions in a meeting with Clifford and other Metra officials in Springfield.
“We don’t have Latinos in executive positions, and a Latino legislator asks that we correct that situation,” O’Halloran said. “I see nothing wrong with that. He’s doing his job. If he hadn’t brought the subject up, he wouldn’t be representing his constituents.”
As for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) asking for a pay raise for a Metra employee, O’Halloran said, “The man never got the raise and is no longer with Metra. He’s moved on. We’ve moved on.”
But part of the problem is that the request was made through Metra’s lobbyist in Springfield. Why does Metra, a government agency, need a lobbyist in the state capitol?
Right there you have the makings of political interference. You’re sort of asking for it.
Yet I understand that in Illinois, you better have a lobbyist in Springfield if you want to get things done.
As for allegations that he asked Clifford to discharge two Metra employees, O’Halloran said he never asked Clifford to “fire anyone.”
“I expressed concerns that had been raised by (state transportation) officials, among others, with the performance of the employees,” he said. “As Metra chairman, I consider raising these issues with the Metra CEO to be part of my job.
“One of those employees remains on the job and the other retired. I did nothing wrong or inappropriate.”
The payment to Clifford certainly looked like hush money. But if that were the intent, it certainly failed.