August 14, 2014

Coast RTA looking for ‘regular superman’ in next chief

Members of the Coast RTA board of directors met Thursday to hash out just what they want in a new leader, and they want to make sure that person knows what they’re getting themselves into.

Members of the Coast RTA board of directors met Thursday to hash out just what they want in a new leader, and they want to make sure that person knows what they’re getting themselves into.

Within five minutes of the meeting, board members challenged the presence of Julie Norton-Dew, interim CEO and general manager of Coast, who is interested in applying for the job full-time.

“Please, don’t take this the wrong way, but are you going to apply for the job?” asked Gary Loftus, Coast board member and a representative from the Horry County Council.

“Yes,” Norton-Dew replied.

“Well if she’s going to apply for the job, is it appropriate for her to be here?” Loftus said.

“Well, it’s a public meeting...” Norton-Dew said.

“Excuse me, is it appropriate for her to be here other than it is a public meeting?” Loftus said.

That set off a flurry of comments ranging from allowing a potential candidate to be a part of the preparation committee to hire a new general manager to allowing her to be present without chiming in, which was ultimately decided.

“She could watch it on tape if she wasn’t here,” said Bernie Silverman, chairman of the Coast board. Coast RTA tapes and publishes its meetings on its website. “My call is that she can be here.”

Norton-Dew stayed out of the conversation for the most part and later offered to give the board a list of websites where it can advertise the position.

It took the committee 45 minutes to decide on the title, education level and experience needed for the new hire. The committee decided to keep the current title of CEO/General Manager, require a bachelor’s degree or better and the qualified candidate must have at least three years of experience in transit.

Coast RTA is looking for a new general manager after firing Myers Rollins at its April board meeting. Rollins was fired after a bus shelter program never came to fruition nearly seven years after receiving a $1 million grant.

Coast RTA has faced challenges for years, including finding a permanent source of funding. In 2006, voters approved an advisory referendum that stated it would like to see .06 mil dedicated to public transportation. Horry County took notice and currently funds Coast RTA to the tune of $1.05 million annually in four payments.

Also in fiscal year 2013, the county withheld its fourth-quarter payment because Coast management did not make sufficient effort to change the makeup of its board to reflect representation equal to local funding sources. The county later paid Coast the fourth-quarter payment.

This year, Horry County said it will fund Coast RTA, but expects receipts detailing the use of funds.

Mickey James, board member of Coast, said the company should identify where it needs help most and address it through the hire of a new general manager.

“We have some critical issues in this company, from a management standpoint, an administrative standpoint,” James said. “We have to see what kind of problems we have in this company that, when we hire somebody, they will be able to deal with these issues.”

Couple the lack of dedicated funding with an aging bus fleet, and the new general manager will have to continue to do a lot with a little money.

Rollins also had his struggles with getting cooperation from S.C. Department of Transportation officials. In 2013, the S.C. Department of Transportation labeled the transit “at-risk.”

Rollins and the county vowed to have a better relationship in 2014. A 2013 meet and greet tour at Coast RTA was canceled in November because a report was not ready. That tour was never re-scheduled before Rollins’ termination.

James said it’s important for candidates to know what they are walking into.

“We’ve got a financial problem. We can’t raise no funds. They should be able to know how to do that,” James said. “Then we have problems with buses. We have mechanical problems and all kinds of problems. We need to identify all the problems in this company and bring them to the table for this new person to come in.

“This company’s been in dire shape as far as image, and we need to make sure that we let that person know what we’re dealing with when we bring them in.”

Chuck Ottwell, member of the Coast board, said Coast’s struggles should not come as a surprise to candidates.

“I think that most people who apply for the job will know [the challenges]” Ottwell said.

Loftus replied: “If they don’t know that we don’t want them.

“We don’t need to teach him everything he knows,” Loftus said. “He needs to come in here knowing something. He needs to know about federal funding, state funding. He has to be familiar with all that stuff because we haven’t got time for a learning curve.”

As board members debated whether the ad should include risk hazards and work conditions for the general manager position, Norton-Dew added her opinion.

“May I say something?” Norton-Dew asked before being granted permission by Silverman. “Safety is the No. 1 priority as an agency and I would think you would include that in the job description.”

Committee members discussed which human resources officials with Coast RTA and the county would review the job description before it was released. Norton-Dew asked that it not be released until Felicia Beaty, chief operating officer of Coast, has a chance to review it. She is out of the office until Friday.

Norton-Dew later let the committee know she would provide them a list of online transit trade publications where it could advertise the job opening.

According to the funding agreement between the county and Coast RTA, the Horry County Council must sign off on the contract between Coast and the new hire. Also, Coast eliminated its staff attorney position this fiscal year, so the contract will be reviewed by McNair Law Firm.

Ottwell said he would like to see the successful candidate work well with area municipalities, reach out to areas that are not being served, and perform the day-to-day duties of a general manager, as well.

“The bottom line is... we need more than just a guy that can get out and run the buses,” Ottwell said. “We need a regular superman.”

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