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State

Ex-Metra chief's severance deal under scrutiny

CHICAGO – A large severance package for Metra's former CEO is drawing scrutiny from state lawmakers who called it wasteful Tuesday and urged the Chicago-area commuter rail agency not to burden taxpayers with its costs.

Metra's board accepted Alex Clifford's resignation last week and approved $442,000 in severance. It also agreed to pay Clifford's legal fees, moving expenses and health insurance costs, which could push the buyout to more than $750,000.

State Reps. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, and David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, released a joint statement calling on Metra not to pass along to taxpayers the extra costs of the buyout beyond Clifford's contracted salary of about $252,000.

"The wastefulness inherent in this decision is truly shocking," Franks said.

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran said last week that Clifford was departing because of a "difference in opinion" on the direction of the rail network. O'Halloran said the size of the "generous" payout was partly because Clifford had to uproot his family from California to take the job.

Clifford, a former executive at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, joined Metra in 2011. He replaced longtime executive director Phil Pagano, who was accused of defrauding Metra out of about $475,000. Pagano committed suicide in May 2010 by stepping into the path of a Metra train.

Clifford's contract was set to expire next February.

"The board could very easily have bought Clifford out of his contract or placed him on leave until it expired," Franks said. "Instead, they chose to give him more than his predecessor allegedly looted from the agency in the first place and send the bill to the taxpayers."

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