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Ex-Metra CEO: Mike Madigan’s requests show ‘a moral and ethical flaw’

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Updated: August 19, 2013 2:36PM



Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford finally broke his silence at a marathon hearing Wednesday, delivering volatile testimony about Illinois politicians’ alleged “dirty deeds” behind the scenes at a suburban rail agency already tainted by scandal.

When he was done, Metra leaders called him a spin doctor spewing “a whole lot of hooey.”

Clifford’s marquee testimony before the Regional Transportation Authority board revolved around House Speaker Michael Madigan. He said the powerful Southwest Side Democrat exhibited “a moral and ethical ... character flaw” when he allegedly pressured Clifford to give a raise and promotion to certain employees, without saying why they deserved them.

But Clifford also leveled similar patronage accusations against Democratic Reps. Luis Arroyo and Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez. He even took a shot at the late Metra chief Phil Pagano, claiming his predecessor steered a no-bid contract to a firm owned by a business partner of Metra board member Larry Huggins.

When it was Metra’s turn at the six-hour hearing, Chairman Brad O’Halloran described Clifford as a flawed administrator fixated on having his three-year contract with the agency renewed. He said Clifford didn’t make allegations of illegal conduct until he thought that contract was in danger.

Once he did, O’Halloran said he took Clifford’s claims to the Office of Executive Inspector General immediately. He said Clifford did not, and is no whistleblower.

“I blew the whistle,” O’Halloran said. “That’s why we’re all here today.”

Clifford has said Metra officials worked to oust him after he spelled out his allegations in an internal April 3 memo.

But after listening to O’Halloran’s testimony about Clifford’s failings as a CEO, RTA board members said it made Clifford’s $718,000 golden parachute upon leaving Metra all the more distasteful. Metra’s attorney said litigation with Clifford could have been even more costly.

Though Madigan played a key role in Wednesday’s hearing, his spokesman could not be reached for comment. He’s ignored phone calls from the Chicago Sun-Times for days. And neither Arroyo nor Hernandez could be reached for comment after the hearing.

Gov. Pat Quinn, though, used an unrelated news conference Wednesday to bash Metra’s board members. He said they should look into their consciences.

Quinn called RTA and Metra a “disappointment.” And he called Madigan “a man of character.”

But Clifford said Madigan delivered, through a state lobbyist, his requests to increase pay for one Metra employee and a promote another. He said Madigan never made such requests in person.

Clifford said he chose not to respond, and he instructed his staff to do the same. By ignoring the speaker’s alleged requests, he said he failed to “complete the circle” and no illegal activity took place. It didn’t become an issue, he said, until his failure to play along threatened his job.

“That’s when it all became important and salient,” Clifford said.

At one point Wednesday, Clifford was asked if he wanted to share any other “allegations” not contained in his explosive April 3 memo. After again conferring with his attorneys and getting permission from Metra’s, Clifford said that during his tenure as CEO, he’d learned that Huggins’ business partner — Joe Williams — had somehow won a non-competitive, $200,000 Metra contract connected to Englewood’s Flyover bridge project.

He said Williams’ company, Target Group, was paid to certify African-American contractors to work on the multi-million-dollar bridge project, but that it ultimately failed in its efforts. He said he later forwarded to state investigators his concerns about how the contract was awarded.

When it was Huggins’ turn to speak Wednesday, he pointed out that while he has business dealings with Williams, he’s not involved with Target Group, and that it was Pagano who reached out to Target.

“It was a decision that Larry Huggins had nothing to do with,” Huggins said.

Later Wednesday, Williams said he had “voluminous documentation” of his company’s work. He said it didn’t fail, but Metra’s two-year delay in bidding the contract made its work irrelevant.

In addition to the Madigan and Arroyo incidents, Clifford said that on one occasion while he was on a trip to Springfield, Rep. Hernandez approached him to say that her husband, a Metra employee, was being mistreated by a supervisor.

“I indicated to her that that was inappropriate and that we don’t discuss personnel matters with public,” Clifford said.

In spite of all the turmoil, Clifford began and ended his testimony Wednesday by telling the board how he’d rather have kept his job.

“I didn’t want to leave this job,” Clifford said. “I loved it.”

Contributing: Dave McKinney



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