Audit: Metra officials repeatedly misled public over CEO’s ouster

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Metra officials repeatedly misled the public when they insisted an unusually large severance package for former CEO Alex Clifford saved taxpayers millions of dollars in potential litigation costs, according to a bruising report from the Regional Transportation Authority.

The transit agency offered Clifford a $718,000 departure deal in June after he threatened to file a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging political back scratching and questionable contracts at the nation’s second largest commuter service. Metra attorneys and board members have defended the settlement for weeks, saying the move prevented a costly legal battle.

The RTA’s analysis of the Metra decision-making process, using financial documents and access to closed-door meeting minutes, paints a vastly different picture.

The audit, to be released Wednesday, challenges the Metra board’s justification for awarding Clifford the generous severance package – that it was the most “financially prudent” alternative to fighting Clifford and his attorney, Michael Shakman, in a protracted court fight.

In fact, the audit determined that awarding the $718,000 severance package was perhaps the least financially defensible option available to the board.

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Metra CEO Alex Clifford talks to reporters in his office in April, 2013. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)