The Capital Metro board will announce at least two finalists Monday to be the transit agency’s new president and CEO, the board chairman said Wednesday after the directors met for almost two hours in closed session.
The board will interview the finalists in closed session Jan. 8, followed by a forum later that day where the general public will be able to talk to the contenders. Board chairman Wade Cooper said the board on Jan. 9 will “deliberate” about a final choice, who would then go into negotiations with the agency’s staff on an employment contract.
The board will vote on that contract in late January. Cooper said that person’s identity would likely become public before that point.
“I expect we will have one antecedent vote to designate the candidate” for negotiations, Cooper said.
Cooper said that, yes, the board behind closed doors made a decision about who to cull and who to keep from among a field of semifinalists, whose names have not been made public. Cooper, an Austin attorney, said that decision did not constitute a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, which says that a “final action, decision or vote on a matter deliberated in a closed meeting” must be held in open session.
Beyond that, the Texas Attorney General’s open meeting handbook says that case law has established that board members in closed session may express opinions or even indicate how they will vote later when that “final” decision is made in public.
The board’s search for a new president and CEO to replace Linda Watson, who retires at the end of this month, comes as the Austin City Council searches for a new leader of its work force. That city search, and the secrecy attending it, has generated a lawsuit by the Austin American-Statesman and coverage of an escapade in early November when council members and short-listed candidates for the job decamped for interviews to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport terminal’s secure area to avoid reporters.
As with the city search, the Capital Metro board and its search consultant have sought to shield the identities of applicants until deep in the process on the theory that promises of confidentiality yield a more qualified field of applicants. The eight-member Capital Metro board includes three members of the Austin City Council.
The Capital Metro CEO and president oversees more than 300 agency employees, as well as several outside companies that provide drivers and mechanics for the agency’s more than 80 bus routes and one rail line. This year’s budget is about $350 million, much of its supported by a 1 percent sales tax levied by the agency.
The Statesman on Nov. 29 asked for the names and application materials of the short-list candidates for the job.
Capital Metro notified the Statesman Wednesday that it is withholding the candidate information, and sent a request to the Texas attorney general’s office to rule on the issue, based on exceptions in the public records law for confidential information, competition or bidding and trade secrets.
The attorney general decided in the newspaper’s favor for a similar request during Capital Metro’s 2010 CEO search, but only after Watson was tapped for the job.