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Metra Board Chairman Resigns Amid Payout, Patronage Scandals

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(CBS) – Metra’s board chairman has resigned in the wake of scandals that include a controversial severance package for the rail system’s former CEO.

Brad O’Halloran sent his letter of resignation to Cook County board members Thursday afternoon. He was among board members who OK’d a more than $700,000 contract buyout for former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who claimed he was pressured to raise the salary of an agency employee who was a political crony of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

O’Halloran is the third Metra board member to resign amid heavy criticism.

“It is with mixed feelings that I step down,” O’Halloran wrote in his letter. “I have come to the sad conclusion that, so long as I am chairman and a member of the board, the truly critical issues facing Metra will be left aside while the focus remains on the next big headline or attention-grabbing quotation.”

Metra officials say it will be business as usual.

“Metra thanks Mr. O’Halloran for his service,” Metra Deputy Executive Directors Alex Wiggins and Don Orseno said in a joint statement. “Metra’s staff will continue to work with our Board members and focus on our agency’s mission to provide the riders and taxpayers of Northeast Illinois with high-quality, safe, affordable and reliable commuter rail service. Our customers should expect no change.”

State Rep. Jack Franks, a McHenry County Democrat who has criticized Metra, says he doesn’t question O’Halloran’s integrity.

“I think his heart was in the right place,” he said. “But I think the problem that he had with Alex Clifford, that it colored everything else.”

Clifford appeared before Metra’s parent organization last month and said Madigan last year sought the raise for campaign worker Patrick Ward 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 quit his job at Metra to work for the state.

O’Halloran said the severance deal was OK’d to avoid a legal battle with Clifford that would have been costly, win or lose.

Read O’Halloran’s resignation letter here.

O’Halloran also resigned his post as an Orland Park trustee, the Orland Park Patch reported Thursday.