- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
Capital Metro, in a letter opposing the disclosure of semifinalists for its open president and CEO position, has become the second Central Texas government to argue that a court ruling protecting businesses in a competitive environment should apply to government entities as well.
In a four-page letter sent Wednesday to the Texas attorney general, a lawyer for the transit agency cites the 2015 Texas Supreme Court decision in Boeing v. Paxton, which allowed the aircraft manufacturer to prevent disclosure of information from a government lease, which otherwise would be public, because it could offer a market advantage to other businesses.
In this case, attorney C. Robert Heath wrote on behalf of Capital Metro, “releasing the candidates’ names will put Capital Metro in a disadvantageous competitive position and can put Capital Metro in a bidding war.”
Capital Metro’s letter comes in response to a public records request by the American-Statesman seeking the names of candidates who interviewed this month for the transit agency’s top job.
The newspaper made a similar request this fall for names of contenders for Austin city manager, and lawyers for the city also argued the Boeing decision should apply to its executive search. The Statesman has sued the city for records related to the city manager search, which culminated Tuesday in the City Council’s selection of Minneapolis City Coordinator Spencer Cronk for the job.
While Capital Metro has not named the larger pool of semifinalists, the board revealed the names of four finalists Monday to replace president and CEO Linda Watson, who is retiring Dec. 31. Those finalists are:
• Randy Clarke, a vice president with the American Public Transportation Association.
• Erika Mazza, deputy general manager with the North Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority in Flagstaff.
• Darrell Mobley, director of public works and transportation for Prince George’s County, in Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs
• Raymond Suarez, chief operating officer of the Denton County Transportation Authority in North Texas.
Capital Metro’s letter Wednesday argues that revealing candidates’ names could lead to other transit agencies poaching its contenders, while the candidates’ current employers could launch a “bidding war” to keep them.
Heath also noted that search consultant Krauthamer & Associates said nine potential candidates declined to apply for the Capital Metro job because of fears of their names becoming public, potentially damaging their standing at their current jobs.
In its Nov. 29 public information request, the Statesman pointed to the Texas attorney general’s 2010 opinion, issued during a previous Capital Metro leadership search, that said the candidates’ names should be released to the Statesman.
The next leader of Capital Metro will oversee a public agency with a $323.3 million budget, about 80 bus routes, one rail line and a door-to-door paratransit service that altogether provide more than 30 million rides a year.
Heath argued the Boeing ruling trumps the 2010 attorney general’s opinion.
“The concern that Capital Metro is competing with other transit authorities who may be interested in hiring the same person is not an idle one,” Heath wrote in the letter. Transit agencies in New York; Philadelphia; Boston; Tampa, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta, Denver and Toronto are all looking for CEOs and other high-ranking executives, he said.
The attorney general has 45 days to make a ruling, starting from when Capital Metro referred the Statesman’s request to his office on Dec. 13.
Heath argued that the fact that the search for a new president and CEO is nearly over — the board likely will choose a winner Jan. 9 — does not dilute Capital Metro’s argument. This new CEO, he said, will one day move on and a new search will occur with similar potential concerns.
“Also, (Capital Metro) conducts searches for other top administrative positions,” Heath wrote, “so the issue comes up frequently.”