TriMet launching process to choose next general manager
The TriMet Board of Directors will hold a work session on Wednesday, Jan. 20, to begin discussing the search and hiring process for selecting the regional transit agency's next general manager.
The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. and solely focus on the general manager position, including a draft job description and the roles and responsibilities of board members, an outside recruiting firm and TriMet staff during the process.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the process at the board's regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27, and during future outreach efforts organized by TriMet that are still being developed.
"The TriMet board intends to assemble a diverse candidate pool based on a nationwide search," TriMet Board of Directors' President Bruce Warner said. "We look forward to hearing from the community on priorities for TriMet as we fulfill our most important duty of choosing the agency's next leader."
Doug Kelsey, who has served as general manager since March 2018, has announced he will retire when his current contract with TriMet expires in March. The agency's board of directors canceled a Dec. 30 meeting to discuss new criteria for Kelsey's successor after receiving letters from elected officials and advocacy organizations within TriMet's service district calling for more public involvement in the selection process.
The selection process is happening at a critical time for the agency that provides bus and train service throughout most of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Whoever replaces Kelsey will face an unprecedented number of challenges.
Among other things, although TriMet ridership had been declining slowly in recent years, it plunged 70% earlier this year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ridership is still down by about 60% compared to the same period last year.
The ridership decline cut TriMet fare revenues at the same time that the agency's other major funding source — a payroll tax on employers in the region — also fell because of pandemic-related layoffs. Emergency federal and state aid has softened the twin blows, but TriMet is predicting a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2022.
At the same time, TriMet suffered another financial hit when voters defeated a $5.2 billion regional transportation plan proposed by Metro at the November general election. The measure would have helped fund several major TriMet projects that have been in the works for years. They included a new MAX line in the Southwest Corridor between Portland and Bridgeport Village, several new bus rapid transit lines outside of Portland and many new electric buses.
Metro President Lynn Peterson has said the elected regional government will not submit another such measure to voters until 2022, at the earliest.
TriMet is now finishing the federally required Final Environmental Impact Statement for the MAX line before ending work on the project. Once the impact statement is completed, the project could qualify for federal funding if Congress approves a large infrastructure funding package to stimulate the economy.
The TriMet board is also facing a membership and leadership change. Director Travis Stovall resigned after being elected Gresham mayor at the November 2020 general election, and Chair Bruce Warner's term has expired. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has nominated Dr. LaVerne Lewis to replace Stovall and Eun Hyung "Thomas" Kim to succeed Warner. They must be confirmed by the Oregon Senate to serve. The board chooses the chair.
And TriMet and its largest union still have not agreed to a new contract, despite years of increasingly bitter accusations from the leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The two letters to the TriMet board reveal the next general manager will face high expectations. For example, the elected officials said whoever is chosen must be qualified to lead the agency to accomplish the following goals: effectively connect people to jobs, education and medical care; address racial equity within the TriMet system to ensure that all users, particularly people of color, benefit from the region's transit network; meet regional climate goals; power the region's economic recovery; and provide affordable housing and job options.
"We desperately need fresh, new leadership from TriMet with a clear vision to proactively champion transit as an essential ingredient to addressing our region's growing inequality, carbon emissions and as a job creator to tackle the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic," read the letter from the advocacy organizations.
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