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Our View: Metra probe is welcome

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Controversy surrounding the departure of Metra Chairman Alex Clifford is emblematic of one of several key things wrong with Illinois government, and a thorough probe could be an opportunity for a thorough scrubbing.

If you believe the critics, and at this point they seem to be winning the argument, Clifford was brought in as a reformer to restore an agency beleaguered by the scandalous departure and subsequent suicide of former Executive Director Phil Pagano.

Critics say Clifford’s problem was that he took them seriously and actually tried to reform Metra. Most would argue that reforming a government agency would include things such as stopping patronage hiring and raises.

The latest bombshell surrounding Clifford’s generous severance package of more than $700,000, which critics contend was the Metra hierarchy’s attempt to buy Clifford’s silence, were allegations that House Speaker Michael Madigan was putting patronage demands on Metra. A memo from Clifford to the Metra board claims Madigan attempted to secure a pay raise for one of his campaign workers, and also sought to secure a job for another of Madigan’s friends.

Today, Clifford has been given some latitude to break his silence contract, and he is expected to answer questions from the Regional Transportation Authority. The RTA’s chief of staff has bowed out of the inquiry because Madigan is his father-in-law.

Some, including state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, also want a hearing before the House Mass Transit Committee, although compelling Clifford to testify at such a hearing would require the blessing of ... you guessed it, Speaker Madigan.

For too long, patronage has been more important to Illinois politicians than taxpayer dollars, efficiency and good government. If that’s what happened at Metra, the public deserves the facts, an explanation and accountability.

However that inquiry happens and in whatever forum, Clifford must be able to speak freely. Spending $700,000 of public money to keep the public from knowing what happened is truly a scandal, even for Illinois.

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