Just how many Metra investigations are we paying for?

Leading up to and in the wake of Metra executive director Alex Clifford's resignation in June of 2013, a number of public and private bodies investigated or are investigating Metra. All of these efforts are being paid for by taxpayers and Metra riders. Here's a rundown.

Metra executive director Alex Clifford resigned last June, alleging impropriety on the part of certain Metra board members and Illinois legislators. In the ensuing scandal, five board members resigned, including chairman Brad O'Halloran.

Leading up to and in the wake of Clifford's resignation, a number of public and private bodies investigated or are investigating Metra. And all of these efforts are being paid for by taxpayers and Metra riders—the two sources of Metra's revenue.

Here's a rundown.

 

Investigator: Hinshaw & Culbertson law firm

What for: After former executive director Clifford alleged in a 4/3/13 memo to the Metra board that board members pressured him to favor clouted workers and contractors, the board asked Hinshaw & Culbertson (H&C) to look into it. H&C already had a contract with Metra to provide miscellaneous legal services, according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. Metra directed that H&C have a staff attorney, Rodger Heaton (a former U.S. attorney in central Illinois), look into Clifford's allegations.

Outcome: Metra said that Heaton made an oral report in which he found no wrongdoing. Metra's acting board chair, Jack Partelow, told reporters that he "will try" to get a written report, which might or might not become public.

Cost: $52,400 to date. Spokesman Gillis said that the fee is carved out of this year's contract with H&C which is "not to exceed" $2.5 million.

 

Investigator: Illinois Legislative Inspector General (LIG)

What for: The Chicago Tribune reported on 7/25/13 that, after Clifford claimed that Metra staff had been pressured by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to promote a former campaign worker, former board chair O'Halloran referred the matter to the LIG. The Tribune further reported that Madigan also asked the LIG to determine whether Madigan did anything wrong. Additionally, LIG Thomas Homer acknowledged that he's checking into Clifford's charge that state Reps. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) and Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) wrongly tried to influence Metra personnel decisions.

Outcome: Unknown; LIG Homer hasn't issued a finding and didn't return a call for comment. (Interestingly, the Better Government Association reported last June that Homer "is stepping down this month." But Homer, a former judge who's done the LIG job part-time for nine years, is evidently still on the job.)

Cost: According to information provided in an Illinois auditor general's report, in fiscal year 2012 the LIG's office spent about $5,600 per investigation that it concluded.

 

Investigator: Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General (OEIG)

What for: The Tribune reported on 7/18/13 that Clifford had referred a case to the OEIG. The case alleges that former board member Larry Huggins "had engineered a $200,000 no-bid 'community outreach' contract with a firm owned by a business associate. The contract . . . was terminated because the firm was over budget and far from finished with its work."

The OEIG also received a copy of Clifford's 4/3/13 memo to the Metra board, in which Clifford detailed the inappropriate personnel contacts described above.

Outcome: Unknown. The OEIG won't comment on what it is or isn't investigating, and it hasn't issued any related findings.

Cost: According to an Inside Chicago Government analysis, in fiscal year 2012 the OEIG spent about $50,000 per investigation that it closed.

 

Investigator: Metra Ethics Officer

What for: One of Clifford's allegations, the Tribune reported on 7/18/13, is that former board chair O’Halloran "tried to secure a lucrative banking contract for Wintrust Corp., even though the chairman serves on the board of one its subsidiaries . . . Clifford also related how Metra’s procurement chief Paul Kisielius had questioned whether a conflict existed and his concerns were forwarded to the agency’s ethics officer."

Outcome: Spokesman Michael Gillis said that Metra ethics officer Suzy Choi-Lee issued an opinion that O'Halloran shouldn't participate in securing such a contract.

Cost: Unknown.

 

Investigator: Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) audit staff

What for: "Determine [the] financial prudence of [Metra's] settlement agreement" with Clifford, according to an RTA briefing document.

Outcome: The audit found that the "Settlement Agreement process was inadequate and not sufficiently documented" and "There is a lack of justification for the generous post‐employment package" given to Clifford. Auditors also said that the Metra board, in dealing with Clifford, appeared to circumvent Metra's own staff and lawyers. The auditors said that because hired lawyers and consultants "reported directly to Board members independent of the agency, it’s difficult to determine whose interests they were serving." RTA staff expects to make a final report to RTA's board in September.

Additionally, the RTA released a draft of its audit that claims that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is also investigating the Clifford deal. An FRA spokesman denied that the agency is doing so.

Cost: A spokeswoman said that the RTA can't provide the cost of the audit till it's complete.

 

Investigator: Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force

What for: "Examine and make recommendations to the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly . . . as to how the Northeastern Illinois Transit Agencies can improve their operations, repair the damage done to the public trust, and modernize the transit system for the people who depend upon these systems," according to an 8/15/13 executive order by Gov. Pat Quinn. Presumably, the task force will join the throng digging into Metra behavior.

Outcome: To come. The task force must make a "written interim report" by 10/18/13 and a final report by 1/31/14.

Cost: Quinn's executive order directs the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) to "provide administrative support" to the task force. A Quinn spokesman said that IDOT could not identify a limit on support expenses.