CHICAGO (CBS) — Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran defended an expensive severance settlement with former CEO Alex Clifford, explaining the deal was cheaper than a potential lawsuit if Clifford were fired without a parting deal.

O’Halloran testified before Regional Transportation Authority officials, who have questioned why the deal gave Clifford a healthy raise, and would even pay him if he doesn’t find another job by August 2014.

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RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. said the parent agency is auditing Metra’s severance package for Clifford – a deal worth up to $750,000 total.

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“Why pay him anything more than what is required under his contract?” Gates asked.

O’Halloran outlined disputes between Clifford and the Metra board over contracts, and allegations Clifford was pressued to make political hires. He said the severance deal avoided the expense of a lawsuit.

“Mr. Clifford and his attorney argued that if his contract were not renewed, such non-renewal would be in retaliation for his reporting alleged illegal conduct to the board,” he said.

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A Metra attorney said nothing improper was found, and the cost of the severance package was well below what a lawsuit would cost.