Metra officials were supposed to meet Monday to discuss the hiring of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins. He was to look into patronage allegations brought by ex-CEO Alex Clifford. At a Regional Transit Authority meeting last week, Clifford said he was forced out for not bowing to political pressure from House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Clifford alleged that two Metra board members in particular, Chairman Brad O’Halloran and Larry Huggins, pressured him to approve a request by Madigan to giving a pay raise to a Metra employee and acquaintance of Madigan. At last week’s hearing, both O’Halloran and Huggins denied the accusations.
Last week, O’Halloran named Collins to head an investigation into allegations against the rail service. But late Sunday, the law firm of Perkins Coie notified Metra of a “potential conflict” and that Collins could not take the case.
“The board expressed their disappointment. And Chairman O’Halloran expressed his disappointment that Mr. Collins cannot undertake this endeavor,” says Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis. “But he remains committed to interviewing other lawyers with outstanding reputations and investigative skills.”
A written statement from Metra does not say what the conflict is. Gillis says he can’t say whether a new investigator would be in place before Metra’s next scheduled board meeting on August 16th.
Gillis says O’Halloran will look for an alternative to Mr. Collins.
Clifford resigned in June and was given a severance package totaling more than $700,000. When asked at the RTA meeting about the large amount, Clifford said it was compensation to alleged damages to his reputation and the possibility of not finding another CEO job. Metra attorney Joseph Gagliardo said the money was to put off a protracted legal battle had Clifford stayed with Metra. Both sides say it was not hush money.
Yolanda Perdomo is a WBEZ host and producer. Follow her @yolandanews.