Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 was disappointed to learn that Doug Kelsey, TriMet’s Chief Operating Officer, is the lone finalist to take the reins as the agency’s next General Manager. At a time when the company desperately needs new and diverse leadership, selecting Kelsey is a clear choice for the status quo: declining ridership, increasingly-unreliable service, and a worsening relationship between workers and management.
The process to name Kelsey the lone finalist for the job was a sham from top to bottom. In public, the TriMet Board of Directors assured our community that the agency would conduct a robust and “international” search for the company’s next General Manager. Agency leadership met with advocacy and community groups across Portland to ask for their input on the qualities of a strong General Manager, promising that they’d take that feedback to heart as they vetted candidates. And our Union was offered a seat at the table to evaluate candidates, in the hopes of forging a better partnership between union-represented rank-and-file workers and senior management.
In private it’s been a very different story. Since before his appointment as Chief Operating Officer in 2015, it’s been an open secret that Kelsey would take over as General Manager someday. In fact, that’s part of the reason the agency created the role of “Chief Operating Officer” in the first place. It’s not clear what, if anything, TriMet did with the feedback they received from their community partners. And when it comes to the Union’s role, we were offered just a few minutes to address the Board at tomorrow’s hearing even though we already know that Kelsey will be appointed the lone finalist for the position.
It’s an insult to our collective intelligence to pretend that this process was anything other than rigged in Doug Kelsey’s favor. It’s yet another example of TriMet’s Board making decisions behind closed doors while pretending to engage in an authentic, democratic, public process.
We’re concerned by what we’ve seen of Doug Kelsey in terms of substance, too. Over the last two years, he’s been part and parcel of TriMet’s broken leadership culture – and just about every word we’ve said about Neil McFarlane and his lackeys still rings true. And his failure to gain public support for transit funding in British Columbia, which ultimately led to his unceremonious firing, doesn’t bode well for the upcoming ballot measure to fund transit in the Southwest Corridor.
Although this sham process has nearly run its course, it’s not too late to do the right thing for our communities. We call on TriMet’s Board of Directors to immediately halt the hiring process, and to undertake an authentically open & public search for the agency’s next General Manager. If Doug Kelsey is truly the best candidate for the job, then an open process would well discover that.
And in the spirit of mutual solidarity, we want to set out our expectations for TriMet’s priorities over the next few years, regardless of who sits in the General Manager’s seat. In our view, the next General Manager should:
- Improve and expand service, especially outside of Portland’s urban core. If you live in East Portland, Gresham, Hillsboro, Tualatin, Tigard, or just about anywhere that’s not Portland’s downtown and inner east side, your transit options are few and far between. Buses are infrequent, some don’t run on weekends or holidays, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that even has local bus service. It’s no surprise that TriMet’s ridership is falling, both in terms of raw numbers and adjusted for our region’s population growth. The next GM needs to focus on the nuts and bolts of providing public transit, and that starts with expanding and enhancing bus service for underserved areas.
- Stop throwing money at expensive capital construction projects. We get it – MAX is sexy, and capital construction means great kick-backs for TriMet leaders’ buddies in the property development industry. But TriMet’s senior leadership has wasted billions of public dollars on projects which have minimal benefits for transit riders. Take a look at the Yellow Line, which led to rampant gentrification and displacement across North Portland, while wealthy developers got even richer and ridership stayed about flat. The agency’s emphasis on building expensive new vanity projects is part of the reason service is suffering.
- Do right by workers. The relationship between TriMet’s management and its rank-and-file union workforce has never been worse. Instead of supporting and coaching workers to succeed in their jobs, our members are being severely disciplined for minor infractions. Managers who have never been behind the wheel of a bus routinely disregard the expertise of frontline workers, as if we were all just disposable parts of the machines we operate. And the ink on our new contract was barely dry before TriMet started violating it. The 3,500+ ATU-represented transit workers at TriMet move this city, and it’s time for the company’s leadership to have our backs.
Shirley Block, President-Business Agent
Jon Hunt, Vice President-Assistant Business Agent
Mary Longoria, Financial Secretary-Treasurer