Thursday, July 11, 2013

That Would Be Both Sides Shutting Up

If you're cutting a deal in which you agree to take the money and keep quiet, you expect the party of the second part to shut up as well. Chances are, the people on the side of the bargain with the most to gain from your silence will be the least likely to antagonize you.

This is the Chicago way of doing business. It has been the practice for generations.

However, this level of "transparency" in government inevitably leads to the conclusion that someone is hiding something. News types wishing to make a name in investigative reporting tend to pounce on such incidents of Chicago-style politics. And so it came to be that the buzz began to buzz, that a fix was in.

Questions came up after Alex Clifford was awarded a generous severance package in exchange for stepping down from his post as CEO of Metra, the transportation agency that oversees the commuter rail system in northeastern Illinois. That would be Chicago and its suburbs, in layman's terms. 

Why was Mr. Clifford getting over $700,000 to leave a job that paid far less than that? Mr. Clifford wasn't talking, and the members of the Metra board who approved the payout weren't talking. The standard practices of Chicago politics were not quietly accepted by the people who pay to ride the rails and adjust their budgets to meet the fare increases. They wanted to know what was going on.

Silence is golden
Ah sure Brad O'Halloran has the gift of blarney and can't keep his mouth closed. He's gone and done it, breaking the rules and inviting a little unpleasant disclosure.

The chairman of the Metra board just couldn't resist when he had the chance to cut former Metra CEO Alex Clifford down to size. In front of the board of the Regional Transporation Authority, the group that oversees Metra and public transporation in Chicago, he read a statement designed to not reveal anything about the shady deal, but then, that devil on his left shoulder got the better of the angel on his right and the words tumbled out.

Words about Mr. Clifford's incompetence, words that implied the gentleman had to go because he was over his head, that sort of thing that would not look good on a resume when Mr. Clifford went to find a new job.

Mr. Clifford didn't like being insulted in public, so he has gone Mr. O'Halloran one better.

Mr. Clifford has detailed certain illegal patronage schemes that certain members of the Metra board tried to push past him, to get friends and relatives into high-paying, do-nothing jobs. 

As the man hired to clean up that sort of mess, he wouldn't go along, and so Mr. O'Halloran and his minions knew they had to get rid of Mr. Clifford. Not one to go away empty-handed, Mr. Clifford took the big check and walked, and would have kept on walking if he wasn't called back by the need to settle the score.

The allegations are detailed in a memo that Mr. Clifford turned over to Metra, which started the ball rolling on his severance package. The RTA board has the memo, but doesn't want to release it, citing various lame excuses about confidentiality and agreements and whatever else sticks. They aren't at all interested in pursuing an investigation into the exorbitant payout, either.

Mr. Clifford is willing to release the memo, and news reporters are very keen to see it.

We wouldn't be here if Brad O'Halloran had taken a deep breath and listened to the better angel of his nature, instead of attacking someone with damaging information who had agreed to shut up. You can't change the rules in the middle of the game, as everyone knows.

Without rules, the game becomes chaos and then bloody war. That's the sort of thing that gets the attention of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and nobody wants that. Especially those trying to keep government "transparent".

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