Andrew Greene, an outside attorney who advised the board during the Clifford severance negotiations, declined to comment on the audit or Partelow's remarks. His firm was aware of the insurance policy during the settlement talk, according to the RTA.

Metra board member Jack Schaffer, who cast the sole vote against the severance package, said there was a brief mention early in the negotiations about the insurance policy, but the board was not told about the $150,000 deductible or the $10 million cap. The issue never came up again, he said.

Schaffer said he believes the information was intentionally withheld to secure Clifford's swift ouster.

"Our former chairman had an agenda to get rid of Alex Clifford as quickly and quietly as possible," Schaffer said. "He didn't want to give the board an easy out and let it go to litigation."

Schaffer said some board members feel duped.

"I think several board members would have rethought their position if they knew about the insurance policy," Schaffer said. "If board members feel misled, it's only natural that the public would feel misled too."

O'Halloran, who resigned in July, could not be reached for comment.

Former board member Paul Darley said he did not recall the board being told about the insurance policy and that the information could have influenced his decision.

"To the best of my recollection, this was never presented as an option," Darley said.

Franks, however, insisted the entire Metra board had an obligation to ask if the agency's insurance policies would have covered a lawsuit.

"They're supposed to be more than just rubber stamps," Franks said. "They're supposed to be watchdogs, but they don't do anything."

Most current and former board members could not be reached for comment. The majority have previously defended the settlement as being the most financially sound alternative.

In his resignation letter last month, former board member Mike McCoy of Kane County said his vote to award the settlement was primarily based on the financial analysis.

Metra's troubles started quietly in April when Clifford sent an eight-page memorandum to board members, alleging that O'Halloran wanted to oust him because he refused patronage demands and thwarted the chairman's attempt to take over hiring at the agency.

O'Halloran has denied the allegations and insisted Clifford leveled patronage claims only after learning his contract might not be renewed.

But the memo, which Metra officials tried for months to keep secret, now is a critical piece of evidence in multiple investigations into Clifford's departure. The controversy has spurred the resignations of five board members, leaving the agency without the supermajority needed to hire a new executive director or elect another chairman.

The RTA, which has financial oversight over Metra and other area transit agencies, began investigating the severance package in June after learning about the settlement from the media. An auditing team spent two months reviewing thousands of pages of documents, listening to recordings of closed-door sessions and interviewing agency officials.

The audit focused strictly on the financial prudence of the settlement agreement and did not address Clifford's patronage claims. Those allegations are currently being handled by the state executive inspector general and his General Assembly counterpart. The Federal Rail Administration also is conducting its own investigation.

O'Halloran repeatedly has said he spurred the state-level investigations by forwarding Clifford's allegations to the inspector general. The RTA audit, however, found no record of what was given to the inspector general's office or when it was sent, documents show.

"There was a lack of actual documents available to support many of the decision points," the briefing document states.

Partelow maintains the various investigations will show the board only wanted to cut the best deal possible for the taxpayers.

"It's simple but straightforward," Partelow said. "We didn't know when we voted on the severance package there was a $150,000 option. Had we known that, we'd have been all over that thing and spared everyone these past two months (of controversy). It was a business decision the whole way."

rwronski@tribune.com

sstclair@tribune.com