TriMet's Board of Directors voted to make Chief Operating Officer Doug Kelsey the agency's next General Manager over the strong objections of the union representing most of its employees on Wednesday.
Only board member Dr. T. Allen Bethel voted against offering the position to Kelsey. One other member, Travis Stovall, was absent but sent a letter supporting Kelsey's appointment.
Before the vote, Jon Hunt, the vice president-assistant business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union 757, testified that the union was adamantly opposed to Kelsey's appointment. He said Kelsey, who has been with TriMet about two years, represents a "failed status quo" that has been unable to increase ridership or increase security on bus and rail lines.
Board Chair Bruce Warner defended Kelsey as the best qualified candidate to replace former General Manager Neil McFarlane, who retired on Feb. 21. TriMet retained an executive recruitmement firm to held conduct an international search for the next General Manager after McFarlane announded his retirement last fall.
"Doug was the best qualified candidate," said Warner, who expalined that Kelsey had accomplished a lot in his time at TriMet, including improving on-time performance.
Before the vote, board member Dr. Linda Simmons agreed with Hunt that ridership has fallen at TriMet is recent years, but said that has happened at almost all transit agencies in the country.
"It is not just a TriMet problem,' said Simmons.
The board had been expected to approve Kelsey's appointment on Jan. 24 after announcing he was the finalist for the position. But numerous witnesses testified that the recruitment process had been too secretive. Although Warner said all of the finanlists requested their names be comfidential, the board subsequently postponed the decision. At Wednesday's meeting, Warner said he, Kelsey and other board members have spent the past month meeting with stakeholders to better understand and address their concerns.
One result of the meetings was a 12-point action plan presented at the meeting that TriMet begins to immediately undertake. It includes public listening sessions in all seven board districts to be held over the next 90 days, the expansion of TriMet's existing Transit Equity Advisory Committee to help address equity and other issues, and the creation of a new rider liaision and advocate position that assist passengers on buses and trains.
Three resolution approved by the board authorize TriMet to enter into negotiations with Kelsey about the position with the goal of filling it by March 6. Until then, interim General Manager Shelley Devine will continue to lead the agency. The board will have to take other action if that deadline is not met.
Before being hired by TriMet, Kelsey served in many capacities at TransLink, including Chief Operating Officer. He also led subsidiary British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd. as President and General Manager, was President of subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company and served as President and Chief Executive Officer of subsidiary West Coast Express.
You can read TriMet's announcement with information about its action plan at news.trimet.org/2018/02/trimet-board-of-directors-chooses-coo-doug-kelsey-as-agencys-next-general-manager.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue at portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/384890-273991-trimet-gm-candidate-answers-questions-from-public-union.
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