Ousted Metra CEO answers questions about firing - Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Ousted Metra CEO answers questions about firing

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Fmr. Metra CEO Alex Clifford testifies Wednesday before the RTA board about his dealings with Illinois politicians. Fmr. Metra CEO Alex Clifford testifies Wednesday before the RTA board about his dealings with Illinois politicians.
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Metra Commuter Rail's former CEO finally answered questions about his firing Wednesday, after the agency lifted a cone of silence it had imposed. Alex Clifford portrayed himself as an heroic crusader for political reform. The people who fired him, though, called Clifford a petty tyrant and a liar to boot.

But, one very big question was left hanging. Given the Metra Board's many complaints about Alex Clifford's alleged incompetence, why didn't they just fire him? Instead, they agreed to pay him up to $718,000 in a severance package. Critics were still infuriated at Wednesday's hearing by the Regional Transportation Board.

"I still haven't heard anything today to justify the amount of money that Mr. Clifford was paid," RTA Board member J.D. Ross says.

"It's really aggravating to think about the amount of money spent in a state that is broke, that has high unemployment, high underemployment," says member Christopher Melvin.

Metra's lawyer said the agency paid rather than risk losing in court, if former CEO Alex Clifford's attorney, Michael Shakman, had sued claiming Clifford was fired for political reasons.

"The cost would have been substantial, just in the defense of the case, even if successful," Metra attorney Joseph Gagliardo explains.

For nearly four hours, Clifford and Shakman laid out part of their case for the RTA Board that oversees Metra. Clifford claimed Metra board member Larry Huggins pressured him repeatedly to break the law, demanding $50,000 for a mysterious group in Washington, D.C. and patronage favors for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"Mr. Madigan wanted James Hines promoted from a customer service supervisor to a conductor," Clifford said. "Again, I told Mr. Huggins I would not do that. If I did that, I felt it would be illegal."

Speaker Madigan has already admitted trying to clout a Metra pay raise for precinct worker Patrick Ward. But a spokesman declined to respond to the new allegation about James Hines, telling FOX 32 News: "I'm not getting into a point by point. We have no record of any request beyond (the pay raise requested) for Mr. Ward."

Huggins denied any wrongdoing.

Expect to hear more about all this. Clifford said he's turned over "voluminous records" supporting his charges to several investigative agencies.

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