Grand Strand leaders look ahead after Coast RTA CEO firing

CCU students wait to board a Coast RTA bus. The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore sjessmore@thesunnews.com
CCU students wait to board a Coast RTA bus. The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore sjessmore@thesunnews.com The Sun News

After last week’s firing of Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins, the transit has a new leader for the first time in almost a decade.

Taking over the helm on a temporary basis is Julie Norton-Dew, 42, a five-year veteran of Coast RTA who spent the last three years as its chief financial officer.

She graduated cum laude from Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wisc., and was a most recent graduate of American Public Transportation Association’s Leadership academy.

While Norton-Dew is managing the day-to-day operations, leaders throughout the region are watching as the Coast RTA board of directors begins a process unfamiliar to them in recent years – searching for a new leader. Rollins spent nine years as the company’s chief, and was fired April 30 for, among other reasons, failure to execute a bus shelter and sign program that will cost Coast more than $324,000.

Before Rollins, Benedict Shogaolu was fired in 2004 after an investigation by the agency’s board showed he misspent public money, mistreated employees and possibly violated state and federal laws, and eventually pleaded guilty to three felony public-corruptions charges in 2006.

Rollins made about $134,000 annually with benefits and perks that topped $40,000 annually. Norton-Dew’s salary has not yet been negotiated.

Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director of the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments and director of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, said that bus shelter project is an example of the expertise needed at the transit’s post.

“It’s a definite niche in dealing with different rules and regulations,” Hoeweler said, of the role of Coast CEO. “I would just hope that it would be somebody that has enough prior experience to be able to hit the ground running so we don’t have a lag time and not too steep of a learning curve.”

Coast provides mass transit in Horry and Georgetown counties.

Coast RTA is funded by a variety of local, state and federal sources. In a 2010 advisory referendum, which is non-binding, Horry County voters told the council it would like to see transit funded at a rate of .6 of a mill, which equaled about $1.05 million this year. Myrtle Beach spent about $365,000 this year funding the transit, while Georgetown County spent $220,000 and Conway funds about $4,000.

Sel Hemingway, administrator for Georgetown County, said he hopes the new general manager would keep Georgetown County residents in mind, as many pack Coast RTA buses during early morning and afternoon commute hours.

“Certainly I would hope and expect a new manager would recognize the importance of the route that accommodates the residents of Georgetown County,” Hemingway said.

He also would like to see the new manager look at broadening connections with area counties like Williamsburg, Marion and Florence to bring more people to the coastal counties and, eventually, create a hub connecting those communities to Georgetown and Horry.

“Beyond that, I would hope it would be someone with the vision and experience to explore expansion of services and the route and efficiency of operations and ultimately … collaboration between the neighboring authorities,” Hemingway said. “It would seem like there would be some efficiencies with a common transfer station or hub where these various authorities came to a centralized point.”

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he would like the new leader to keep educating and transporting tourists at the top of his or her mind.

“The thing is, how do you educate tourists to ride a bus rather than driving,” Rhodes said.

Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board, said there have been discussions about a national search and about hiring a management company, but he would like someone who knows the area.

“What I’m looking for, generally, is someone who supports the mission of transit. I think that’s the most important thing,” Silverman said. “Personally I think we need someone who has local skills. Someone who worked around Horry County and somebody who knows the players. It’s a very personable kind of county.

“If we could get somebody who starts off knowing the county council, knowing who the state people are, knowing the GSATS people ... that would be a real benefit.”

Silverman said he is looking for someone who has integrity, good people skills, transit experience and someone who can “endear Coast into the community.

“Because once that happens, then their job is easier,” Silverman said. “We need a person who can get transit integrated into the community. I want to hear someone saying, ‘This is our public library, and this is our historic city hall and this is our transit company’ even if they don’t use it. Someone who says, ‘This is my town. This is our transit company. This is why we live here. We have a great quality of life and we have good transit.’ That’s what we need. We need somebody who, when they hear Coast, doesn’t make people say, ‘Oh them again.’ We need someone like that, and I don’t know what you go to college for to do that.”

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus could not be reached for comment Friday.

Some of the concern regarding the firing of Rollins was that he lost his effectiveness with agencies that help fund the transit, such as the S.C. Department of Transportation. Rollins could not be reached Thursday or Friday.

Doug Frate, director of intermodal and freight programs with S.C. DOT, said the state transportation agency works with boards of directors by providing training, such as staff-related training and oversight management training, for board members. He said the state makes sure to stay out of the process, however, of selecting a general manager.

“We are very sensitive in making sure these are local-board decisions,” Frate said. “We try to be very respectful of that.”

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