Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford may be headed to Santa Cruz, Calif., to run the coastal county’s transit district – a move that could spare his former Illinois employer hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance costs.
The board of directors for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, known as Metro, is set to vote Friday on a five-year contract that would have Clifford at the helm by early May.
Clifford departed Metra last June under a cloud of controversy because of a severance deal worth as much as $871,000, which he secured after threatening to file a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging political patronage.
That figure includes various amounts for severance, relocation, health and other expenses.
Under the agreement, Metra is obliged to pay Clifford the difference between his Metra salary of $252,000 a year and the salary he receives at a new post from August of this year through August 2015.
Metra estimates that the total savings to the agency could top $200,000 if the deal goes through, Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said.
The position in Santa Cruz would pay Clifford less than he made at Metra, but would cover some of his relocation expenses, in addition to health and other benefits, according to documents posted online in advance of the Metro board’s scheduled vote.
Clifford said Wednesday that he had been on a “nationwide” job hunt when the Santa Cruz position caught his eye.
“I always said I’ll go where the right job is,” Clifford said. “This one came up and I investigated and thought it was a fantastic opportunity.”
Clifford said the Metro board was aware of the controversy he had created in Chicago when he raised the allegations of political interference at Metra, and they considered it a measure of “high ethical standards and integrity.”
“They saw it as a strength,” Clifford said. “They understood very clearly the challenges I went through.”
If approved, Clifford would join Metro – which provides bus service throughout Santa Cruz County -- on May 7. He would replace retiring general manager Leslie R. White, whose contract expires at the end of the year.
Clifford is a native of Southern California and a former city councilman in Riverside, Calif.
Chosen as the preferred candidate from 47 applicants, Clifford negotiated an employment contract that will require the transit district to create a new job title with a ramped-up salary schedule.
White, who was the district’s general manager for more than 18 years, worked under a schedule that topped out at $183,000, district records show.
Clifford would become the district’s CEO/general manager under a new six-step schedule that starts at $172,000 and tops out at $220,000. He would start at step two, which pays $181,000.
The new title “is the more common and accepted job title for this position,” a memo accompanying the proposed employment contract said. The new salary schedule was created because Clifford’s starting salary was already near the top range of the existing schedule, the memo said.
In addition, Metro will reimburse Clifford for up to two round-trip flights between Chicago and Santa Cruz, will pay him a one-time temporary housing stipend of $20,000 and a one-time cash payment of $5,000 once he has closed escrow on a home in Santa Cruz County.
Other perks of the job include a $400 monthly car allowance, a bi-weekly cell phone allowance of $75, seven paid holidays plus the employee’s birthday, and paid bereavement leave for the deaths of family members, including aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Clifford told the Tribune that the time since he was ousted from Metra has been “a very difficult break.”
He spent part of that time volunteering at the Jesse Brown VA Hospital in Chicago, he said.
“I’m not one to sit on my hands,” he said.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun