As GM Search Begins, RTD to Consider Outside Candidates for Interim Job

Denver's troubled transit agency will soon be getting a new chief executive.
Denver's troubled transit agency will soon be getting a new chief executive. RTD
Are you a Denver-area executive with the skills and experience necessary to lead a major metropolitan transit agency, who can start in six weeks but isn’t looking for a long-term gig? Boy, has the board of the Regional Transportation District got an opportunity for you.

RTD’s board of directors voted 8-7 on Tuesday, December 3, to approve a motion that will allow the agency to consider external candidates as it looks to find a temporary replacement for general manager and CEO Dave Genova, who announced his departure from the troubled transit system late last month.

In previous GM vacancies, the board has designated a current member of RTD’s senior leadership team as an interim chief executive, who can expect to lead the agency for up to a year or more as the board conducts an extensive search for a permanent replacement. Adding outside candidates to the pool of potential interim GMs, supporters of the measure argued, sends a message that RTD is willing to shake things up in the face of public scrutiny.

“I think this is our time as the board of directors to take the lead and say to the community at large, ‘We’re hearing everything you’re saying to us,’” said director Angie Rivera-Malpiede of the proposal. “We understand we have a serious credibility problem, and we’re going to work with you to come to a solution, and we’re not going to bind ourselves by saying we’re going to keep it in-house.”

RTD’s ridership is on track to decline for the fifth year in a row, while a persistent shortage of bus and light-rail operators has led Genova and other agency staff to propose the temporary suspension of a “significant amount of service” across the system in the hope of stabilizing its workforce. The agency is also shaving $40 million off its 2020 budget as analysts project slackening fare-box and sales-tax revenues and fears mount over the possibility of an economic downturn.

The board also voted Tuesday to exercise an option in Genova's contract that will allow him to continue in his role for up to another sixty days. In his resignation letter last month, the outgoing GM set January 20, 2020, as his expected departure date, giving the board about six weeks to name an interim replacement.

At the same time, the board began discussion on the search for Genova's permanent successor, which is likely to be overseen by a board committee, potentially with the help of an executive search firm. It won't be a speedy process; board chair Doug Tisdale cited data from the American Public Transportation Association showing that the average search for a transit agency chief lasts fourteen months. Genova, who became interim GM upon the departure of Phil Washington in March 2015, was ultimately selected by the board after a nine-month search, and several boardmembers expressed their hope that a permanent appointment can be made in a similar time frame again.

"There is no task more important for this board," Tisdale said. "You can talk about budgets all you want, you can talk about schedule changes, you can talk about service reductions — it all comes down to the general manager. That's the most important job that we have, so it's important that we take time to think about it."
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff