The sign hanging on the balcony at Capital Metro’s North Operations Center Monday morning had bright news: “Now hiring! Apply today. Walk-ins welcome.”
The transit agency, which is normally hiring for all kinds of positions, is looking for a new president and CEO. Semifinalists for that job walked into the building Monday and were interviewed by the Capital Metro board of directors, though the agency has not released any of the candidates’ names.
Consultant Gregg Moser of Krauthamer and Associates, a Washington, D.C. executive search firm, worked with the board this fall to narrow the field of applicants to replace retiring president and CEO Linda Watson. The board spent Monday talking to those short-list candidates in closed session at the Capital Metro maintenance facility off Burnet Road.
“The board’s cognizant of the need for the public to have some time to find out about them, and we’ll endeavor to do that,” board chairman Wade Cooper said shortly before five of the eight board members held a brief public meeting to kick off the day of interviews. Then they filed into a nearby computer training room for the confidential grilling.
Cooper said the interviews would each take an hour or less.
Capital Metro’s chief oversees about 350 workers, along with several contractors who directly run the bus and rail services. The agency’s 80 or so bus routes, one rail line and door-to-door paratransit services, with a budget of $323.3 million, provided about 30.4 million one-way rides in 2016-17. The new president in June will oversee changes to more than half the agency’s bus routes, the most sweeping change in service in the agency’s 32-year history.
The candidates interviewing Monday managed to stay out sight. “Authorized personnel only” signs were prominently displayed near the conference room where the brief public meeting occurred, and several watchful Capital Metro officials were hovering near the sole news reporter on hand.
The close attention to confidentiality comes in the wake of the Austin City Council’s similarly cloaked interview process for candidates looking to become the next city manager. The council — three of its members also serve on the Capital Metro board — in early November scheduled interviews with semifinalists at the Hilton Hotel on the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport grounds, then moved some of those interviews to a secure section of the airport terminal after Statesman reporters spotted and identified some candidates at the hotel.
Cooper could not say Monday when the transit board will vote to narrow the field to two or three finalists, and when the identities of those candidates would be made public.
A version of the schedule shared with the Statesman last month indicates the board will choose the finalists at noon Wednesday in yet another “work session,” the type of meeting that does not allow official action by a local governing board. That schedule indicates that at least some of the Wednesday meeting would be in closed session.
Texas open meeting law allows boards to conduct executive interviews and discuss the merits of candidates in private. But it does not permit voting and, seemingly, a decision to winnow down a field of candidates such as is contemplated in that printed schedule.
That previous schedule says the finalists will be interviewed again and then be presented at a public forum on Jan. 8, but does not indicate when their names would be revealed. Beyond that, it indicates the board would select a winning candidate on Jan. 9.
The American-Statesman on Nov. 29 made a public information request for the names and applications of the semifinalists. State law gives Capital Metro 10 business days — until Dec. 13, in this case — to release the requested information or to assert that the information is not subject to disclosure and refer the matter to the Texas attorney general for an opinion. Capital Metro officials have not done either at this point.
The Statesman on Nov. 29 also sought the contract between Capital Metro and Krauthamer, and the agency released that 58-page document Dec. 7. That contract says the consultant should provide the board with a “long list” of no more than 12 candidates for the CEO job, but goes on to say that Capital Metro would then settle on a short list and then, later, the “final candidates.”