In a new report, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) unleashed a hailstorm of criticism on Metra officials, blasting the agency for giving their recently ousted CEO a golden parachute and "misleading" the public about the decision.
Ex-CEO Alex Clifford said he was pushed out of Metra in July after resising pressure from some of Illinois' most powerful politicians. Metra paid Clifford a severance expected to top $700,000, a sum critics decried as "hush money," according to the Associated Press.
RTA called Metra's deliberative process "flawed" in a draft of the audit, saying the agency could have better served taxpayers by handling Clifford's employment dispute in court:
"[Metra's] decision to give Mr. Clifford a generous severance package was not a financially prudent. All costs related to the Clifford contract dispute should have been claimed under Metra’s existing insurance policy instead of being paid from tax payer funds."
Further, the RTA audit suggested Metra cancel Clifford's severance payment if the agency's insurance policy would still cover litigation. As CBS Chicago reports, Metra's policy -- which specifically covers whistle-blowers suits such as the one Clifford threatened -- has a $150,000 deductible, just a fraction of the cost it paid out in Clifford's severance.
Per the audit:
"RTA’s discovery of Metra’s insurance policy, which would have covered the costs of litigation and settlement, calls into question the reasons behind Metra’s decision to pay Clifford without notifying its insurance carrier. I urge Metra to review its insurance policy and if it would still be financially prudent, Metra should immediately cancel Clifford’s severance agreement."
Then-Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran and agency attorneys repeatedly insisted Clifford's severance payout was the cheaper alternative to fighting a whistle-blower lawsuit, the Tribune reports.
"I'm outraged," state Rep. Jack Franks told the Tribune Tuesday afternoon. "I specifically asked about insurance in 10 different ways. And they lied each time."
Metra, meanwhile, claims their legal counsel provided bad advice. Acting Metra Chairman Jack Partelow said, "Nobody is trying to mislead anybody. We didn't get (advice on the insurance policy) from the people we paid pretty good money to tell us what to do."
The embattled transit agency has had board members dropping like flies recently, with five members already throwing in the towel in the wake of Metra scandals.