Time is ticking for the Regional Transportation District to replace General Manager and CEO Dave Genova, and most of its leaders are in no hurry to push him out.
RTD’s board of directors agreed Tuesday night to keep Genova in the agency's top job through January 20, 2020, the departure date he provided in his 60-day retirement notice late last month. The decision to retain Genova, who makes $295,000, was announced by RTD Board Chairman Doug Tisdale after a roughly 15-minute executive session during a special board meeting.
In the open session, the board wrestled with how to proceed in the “long, hard haul” of hiring an interim CEO in less than 50 days, while essentially searching simultaneously for someone permanent.
Selecting the CEO is "the most important job this board has, period,” Tisdale said. “We have one employee.”
In an 8-7 vote, preceded by a lengthy debate, the board agreed to expand its applicant pool for an interim leader to individuals outside of the agency, a process differing from Genova’s hiring nearly four years ago, as well as when Phil Washington stepped aboard in 2009.
The decision didn’t come easy and took nearly an hour and a half of deliberation.
Some directors in favor of the bill saw broadening the pool as not only an opportunity to choose from best candidates, but also to send a positive message to a community all too aware of the problems plaguing the agency, including staff shortages, declining ridership and budget cuts.
“There is a perception out there that some of the problems within RTD are systemic. If we limit our look for interim GM to strictly people inside the organization, I think it only bolsters that perception,” board member Vince Buzek said. “This is a chance to make a bold step and to make a statement to our stakeholders ... that we mean business, that we really want the best for this agency.”
Others, such as Natalie Menten and Claudia Folska, thought opening the position to external applicants would be unwise, especially when the time it takes to get to know them — and for a candidate to learn about RTD from the ground up — could be spent filling the position permanently.
“I am getting more and more concerned that we are investing substantial energy in what I consider a temporary position,” said Menten, who went through the process of hiring Genova. “It will be a big energy drain on us.”
“When an interim general manager is vying for that position, they lobby and make promises they might not be able to keep,” Folska said. “I want to select a GM who wants to go back to their other life. I don’t want to hire an interim GM that wants that job.”
Folska said the talent could be filled by staff on RTD’s senior leadership team, which include Mike Meader, chief safety officer; Michael Ford, chief operations officer; and Heather McKillop, chief financial officer.
Board member Shontel Lewis advocated for an outside candidate, but only in the long term.
“Changing this process right now takes away the services we really need to be providing to riders,” she said, citing constituent complaints about RTD’s unreliability.
Nevertheless, all candidate resumes must be submitted by Dec. 23, and the position will be filled less than a month later.
The board also will soon decide how to proceed in the search for the agency’s full-time leader, with some standing in favor of using an executive search firm to speed up the process, while others argue it’s too expensive.
On average, the search time to hire a public transit agency’s top job takes 14 months, according to Tisdale, who cited the American Public Transit Association. The group estimates that the soonest RTD would have a new head would be June 2020.
The next RTD board meeting takes place on Feb. 4, 2020, half a month after an interim leader will likely have been chosen.