- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
The Capital Metro board on Monday named four finalists to become the agency’s next president and CEO — three of them executives with transit agencies and a fourth who was a high-ranking official with Boston’s transit agency until 2016.
Those candidates to replace retiring Linda Watson, who has been Capital Metro’s president and CEO since 2010, will undergo a second round of interviews with the eight-member board Jan. 8. They’ll also meet with the public at a 6 p.m. event that day at the Austin school district’s Performing Arts Center. Then, as early as Jan. 9, the board will decide on its final choice and, at its regular Jan. 29 meeting, vote on a contract with the new president and CEO.
But the public probably will know the board’s choice well before that contract vote, board Chairman Wade Cooper said Monday.
“I expect we will post a meeting and vote on the person we will negotiate with,” Cooper said.
All of the remaining candidates have shown promise to be the kind of dynamic regional transportation leader the transit agency needs and to be able to deal with Capital Metro’s looming financial challenges, Cooper said.
“There’s a time of great change coming,” he said.
The finalists are:
• Randy Clarke, vice president of operations and member services with the American Public Transportation Association, a transit advocacy group in the Washington, D.C., area. Clark worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for seven years, ending in April 2016, including stints as deputy chief operations officer and assistant general manger of engineering, maintenance and preparedness.
• Erika Mazza, deputy general manager of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority in Flagstaff since 2016. She formerly worked for the cities of Flagstaff and Boulder, Colo.
• Darrell Mobley, director of Public Works & Transportation for Prince George’s County, in the eastern suburbs of Washington, D.C. In that position, which he has held since 2013, he supervises construction of that sprawling county’s portion of the Maryland Transit Administration’s purple line and of the county’s bus and road operations.
• Raymond Suarez, chief operating officer with the Denton County Transportation Authority since 2014. Before that, he was chief administrative officer of the Trinity Railway Express, the commuter rail line between Fort Worth and Dallas. He previously was an executive with technology companies in Silicon Valley and Michigan, according to a Capital Metro news release.
Cooper lauded Watson, serving at her last board meeting before retiring at the end of the month. Boy Scouts, he said, are told “to leave the camp better than you found it. And by any standard, Linda, you’ve done that.”
Capital Metro, which expects to spend $419 million on operating expenses and new capital projects this fiscal year, has 350 employees and uses several outside contractors to run more than 80 bus routes and the MetroRail commuter train service. The agency’s next leader will be confronted by a recent history of falling ridership, federal requirements to install expensive new train system controls and revenue from its foundational 1 percent sale tax that has shown slower growth this year than predicted.
The new president and CEO also will preside over the June rollout of a massive reconfiguration of the agency’s bus routes, a change likely to test the new leader’s public relations and organizational skills.
The board, heeding the advice of its search consultant, Krauthamer & Associates, previously had kept confidential the names of all the applicants. The board includes three members of the Austin City Council, which had been similarly discreet in its search for a new city manager until an incident in early November. The council was spirited away from reporters looking to identify semifinalists during interviews and conducted some of the talks with candidates in an inaccessible part of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s terminal.
The American-Statesman in late November made a public information request for the names of the semifinalists to be Capital Metro president and CEO. The agency declined to reveal those names, citing several possible exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act, and last week referred the request to the Texas attorney general’s office for an opinion.
The board interviewed those semifinalists a week ago and then met in closed session Wednesday to winnow the list. The board decided to hold off releasing the shorter list until Monday.
The board on Monday also picked Elaine Timbes to be the interim president and CEO, a position she will assume when Watson leaves at the end of the year and will hold until the new president and CEO takes charge in February or March. Timbes, who has been with the agency for 32 years, is the deputy chief executive officer.