The Capital Metro board in closed session Tuesday reviewed applications from a short list of candidates — how short remains unknown — to be the transit agency’s next president and CEO.
The board also discussed questions to ask those candidates, officials said, and a schedule of future meetings and interviews that would allow the board’s eight members to vote in January on a replacement for retiring president Linda Watson.
What happens between now and then, publicly and behind closed doors, became somewhat more clear Tuesday. The agency has not released the names on that short list, which was compiled by search consultant Krauthamer and Associates. But the board, while it cannot legally make decisions in closed sessions, apparently winnowed down the consultant’s list to those it will interview Dec. 11, according to a schedule of the process released after the two-hour meeting.
The board expects to pick at least two finalists on Dec. 13, and those candidates’ names would be released before they met the public at a Jan. 8 event in a setting to be determined. The board would also conduct final private interviews that day with the finalists, the schedule said.
“We’ll just have to see what the interviews produce,” said board member Ann Kitchen, who is also a member of the Austin City Council. “At this point in time, we anticipate more than one finalist.”
The board would make a decision Jan. 9 on whom to hire, according to the schedule, a vote that under Texas law must occur in public. However, Capital Metro spokeswoman Mariette Hummel said Tuesday that the only public vote, under current plans, would occur three weeks later on Jan. 29 when the board, after negotiations with its final choice for the position, approves his or her employment contract.
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 search for Watson’s successor is occurring concurrently with the final stages of the Austin City Council’s long process to name a new city manager. The council, after first deciding to keep the names of finalists secret and decamping to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at one point for furtive interviews, last week released the names of six finalists.
The council, which will begin closed-door interviews with those candidates, has said it will allow at least some members of the public to talk with the final few contenders on Dec. 11 and 12. That first day could be something of a scheduling nightmare, because the Capital Metro board includes three members of the City Council.
One of them, Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, made mild sport of the twin executive searches and lingering questions about secrecy as the Capital Metro board prepared Tuesday to discuss the CEO candidates behind closed doors.
“We’re not going to have to go to the airport, are we?” he asked. With no actual candidates on scene, the board instead went to a shuttered room nearby for its discussion.
The last time the Capital Metro leader’s post was open, in the spring and summer of 2010, the Statesman filed an open records request for the names of six semi-finalists, and the agency appealed the request to then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott’s office ultimately ruled in the newspaper’s favor and those names were released, but Abbott’s opinion came only after Watson had won the competition.
In the meantime, the Capital Metro board named two finalists — Watson and New Jersey transportation consultant Deborah Wathen Finn — and both finalists took questions from the public in open forums.