TBARTA interviews executive director candidates

10/13/08 Seán Kinane
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In a public meeting of its selection committee today, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) interviewed three candidates for its executive director position. The committee considered scrapping the process but ultimately chose to recommend all three candidates to the full board for consideration.

TBARTA received $2 million from the Legislature during the last session, but unless changes are made, it must be spent by the end of the fiscal year. The uncertainty over whether the region’s transportation authority will be able to pay its first hire beyond the end of June led to at least one top applicant withdrawing from consideration.

TBARTA board member Nora Patterson is a Sarasota County Commissioner. She said there are still “some good folks to consider.”

After Monday’s interviews in Pinellas Park, TBARTA board members Patterson and Hugh McGuire unsuccessfully pushed to halt the process and begin again after the funding issue is resolved.

TBARTA intends to ask the Legislature to allow the $2 million to be spent over several years, but there is concern that legislative scrutiny during revenue shortfalls could lead to its funding being cut.

McGuire, a gubernatorial appointee on the TBARTA board, was reluctant to proceed. “I don’t like to do a patchwork. … I do not feel comfortable, personally, in going to the board with a recommendation today about anything, to move forward with picking a director.”

The three candidates who were interviewed at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council in Pinellas Park on Monday were Bob Clifford, John Powell and Thomas Quigley.

Clifford works for the Florida Department of Transportation and has been on loan to TBARTA. At the conclusion of his interview, Clifford said he would consider the risk.

“Let’s assume the money fails, falls through, I’m going to be looking for a significant severance. … That would be the things I’m looking for, length of service, and significant severance, payable before June 30th.”

That did not sit well with some selection committee members, even though several mentioned after the interviews that Clifford was their first choice.

One of those who hand qualms was TBARTA board chair Shelton Quarles. “He just made that like more harsh the way he stated it, like he’s almost demanding, which I guess you almost have to with the economy today. But I just don’t know if we’re sending the right message by going back out.”

Some TBARTA board members said having an executive director in place would be better than starting from scratch because the group would be in a better position to apply for state and federal grant funding. But because none of the three candidates have good political connections, several TBARTA selection committee members suggested that a second person could be hired as the face of the organization to the public, "because ultimately we’re going to need a lot of public support if TBARTA is going to be successful," Nora Patterson said.

During last month’s TBARTA Board meeting, many members supported the idea of a regionwide effort to raise sales tax revenue for transit. But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio opposed it, saying each county should put a referendum on the ballot when its citizens are ready for the idea. Hillsborough may do that as soon as 2010.

Without mentioning Iorio’s name, Quarles asked Bob Skelton, “how would you correct the issue of having one board member who wanted to somewhat go it alone?”

Nora Patterson said the concerns brought up by candidate Thomas Quigley were things that TBARTA should consider. Quigley has switched jobs frequently, which concerned the TBARTA board members, and has been manager of service planning with the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority since last year.

Because of TBARTA’s funding situation, the candidates had to pay their own travel expenses and hope to be reimbursed in the future. Some candidates were warned about the uncertainty of funding for the executive director position, but Quigley told TBARTA vice chair Ronnie Duncan that he not was aware of it.

The third candidate is John Powell, who in the 1980s and '90s was general manager of the Worcester Area Transportation Co. in Massachusetts.

The full TBARTA Board will interview the candidates during their next board meeting at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 24 in St. Petersburg.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF


WMNF coverage of September’s TBARTA meeting

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