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UPDATED: 7/17/2013 – 2:30 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford said Wednesday he does not believe House Speaker Michael Madigan broke any laws by requesting a pay raise for a political supporter, but believes it was “an ethical and moral character flaw.”
But Metra Board chairman Brad O’Halloran called Clifford’s patronage allegations “hooey.”
Clifford appeared before the Regional Transportation Authority board, where he discussed an April 3 memo he wrote, stating Madigan last year sought a raise for a campaign worker at a time when Metra had imposed a freeze on non-union employee pay.
He also testified that another state legislator, Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), asked him to hire someone recommended by the Latino caucus, and that two Metra board members asked him to grant the requests.
Clifford ultimately denied the requests, and Madigan’s political supporter – Patrick Ward – quit his job at Metra, and landed a better paying job with the state’s Department of Central Management Services.
Clifford said Wednesday he believes, because he denied the requests, no laws were broken.
The RTA board sought to question Clifford after he was granted a severance package with a total payout of more than $700,000 if he does not find a job with the same salary by August 2015.
Clifford said he believes he was pushed out as Metra’s CEO for resisting political pressure in decisions about hiring and contracts.
“I believed that one of the reasons why I would not be getting a new contract was because I refused to accede to the requests of certain very powerful politicians in the state of Illinois,” he testified.
O’Halloran rejected any untoward pressure.
“If, as alleged by Mr. Clifford, I was seeking to protect Speaker Madigan, Why would I take his allegations immediately over to OEIG if I thought there was pressure from Speaker Madigan? It just doesn’t make sense,” said O’Halloran. “It is hard to dispute things when you are trying to go at things that you just sit there go, ‘Are you kidding me? What is this?’”
O’Halloran termed Clifford’s charges of patronage and cronyism “Hooey.”
Madigan has acknowledged asking Clifford about a raise for Ward, but withdrew the request after Clifford expressed reservations.
Last week, O’Halloran and his attorney told the board that there was little substance to Clifford’s charges, that they were made only when his job was in jeopardy, and that they did not indicate any pattern of political pressure at the agency.
On Wednesday, Clifford testified he also refused a request from Metra board member Larry Huggins to influence contracts for the Englewood Flyover project.
“I told Mr. Huggins I would not do that. If I did that, I felt it would be illegal. Mr. Huggins argued with me over and over that it was not illegal, and after a half hour of pretty intense argument, if you will, he left my office quite upset,” Clifford said. “I certainly felt, just as I felt in the case of Representative Arroyo and Speaker Madigan, that this was certainly an ethical and moral character flaw.”
In later testimony on Wednesday, Huggins refuted much of what Clifford told the board, calling the allegations a bunch of hooey.
Huggins also told the board that Clifford’s allegations that members of the Legislature’s Latino Caucus tried to pressure him are lies.
Clifford denied coming forward with political patronage allegations only because his contract was not renewed. He said he told the Metra board about the incidents when they happened.
He also said Metra initiated talks about a severance deal, not him.