Under RTA pressure, special Metra board meeting set for Tuesday

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In the wake of a scathing RTA audit , Metra board members agreed to meet in a special session on Tuesday.

Board members say they are expected to discuss the RTA’s recent recommendations, including that Metra investigate whether the suburban rail agency’s $10 million insurance policy can pick up any costs surrounding the controversial June 21 buyout of ex-CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford’s 26-month package, valued at up to $871,000, let Clifford out of his contract eight months early.

Metra officials on Friday sent out notices of a “special board meeting” that will begin Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Metra’s general offices, 547 W. Jackson.

However, much of the meat of the special meeting may occur behind closed doors, in executive session, when board members are set to discuss “matters relating to personnel and legal counsel.” Board members are parting ways with JG Law, which represented them in their months of wrangling with Clifford.

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that at least one Metra board member — Jack Schaffer — also wants to discuss the possibility of reopening Clifford’s severance deal to allow Clifford to come back as CEO. However, Schaffer concedes, a rash of resignations have left the board with only six members — short of the eight votes it needs to approve a CEO.

On Wednesday, the RTA — Metra’s financial overseer — passed a resolution calling the Clifford separation package “not financially prudent.” It also recommended that the Metra board do a “throrough examination” of its insurance policy, develop policies governing severance agreements and establish a performance evaluation system for any new CEO. Clifford’s farewell deal gave him two retroactive “performance” increases, even though the board had never set any “performance” criteria for him. The deal also gave him two prospective raises if he does not find a higher-paying job, through August 2015.

In addition, a “forensic” legal analysis formally released Wednesday by RTA Board member William Coulson, a former federal prosecutor, found that “Metra could well have lost” a threatened Clifford whistleblower lawsuit — something Metra board members have said they were trying to avoid by signing off on the Clifford separation agreement. Coulson found, among other things, that “Metra’s penchant for secrecy undermines its position” and could have hurt it in a court of law.

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