August 5, 2010

Racine looking to hire transit manager; City back tracks on money-saving experiment

We don't spend a lot of time following the city's Transit System, but a City Council vote this week caught our attention. The council voted to add a "transit manager" position to the budget at a cost of $42,000. The rest of the manager's salary would be covered by grants and bus fares.

It's an interesting move because the city is going to be looking at some serious budget cuts this fall, and those may come in the form of eliminating positions. Really, there's not many other ways for the city to save money. So for the city to be looking at adding a position - especially a manager's position - seems to suggest something isn't working.

This story started two years ago when Mike Glasheen retired as the city's transit manager. The city tried to replace him, but couldn't find a qualified candidate at the offered salary of about $75,000 per year. Instead, it decided to split the job up among Professional Transit Management, the private company that runs Racine's public buses, and the city's Finance and Public Works departments.

The city tried out the "experiment" for two years, but is now looking to return to its old system, said Rick Jones, head of the city's Public Works Department. Both the federal government and a report from Len Brandrup, retired head of Kenosha's transit system, wrote reports saying the city needed better oversight of its transit system, or it could risk losing state and federal grant money. 

"It's worked out OK, but it's not as good as it should," Jones said. "We're recommending it (the transit manager position) is put back into the budget."

The challenge is finding a candidate to take the job. Along with salary concerns, Jones said Racine is competing with transit systems in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota for qualified managers. Transit managers have backgrounds in engineering and urban planning, Jones said. 

For now, Steve Rogstad is general manager of the city's buses for PTM. He replaced Curtis Garner, who had a rocky relationship with the bus drivers' union. Teamsters Local 43 went on strike back in 2008 and have threatened to walk a few times since then. 

Wes Gable, head of Local 43, said the union didn't have anything to do with changes in PTM management. He did say he was happy to learn Garner was no longer managing Racine's buses.  

Local 43 and the city have recently started negotiating a new contract for Racine's bus drivers, Gable said. Negotiating meetings are scheduled for the coming weeks, he said.

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