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COTA to Interview Four Candidates for CEO Post

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA to Interview Four Candidates for CEO PostPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Four candidates will be interviewed to be the next CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). A CEO selection committee was formed last summer after Curtis Stitt announced that he would be retiring in September. The committee, led by COTA board member Trudy Bartley, will conduct the interviews over the course of the next month and a half.

Here are the four candidates:

Emile Williams – Served as Vice President of Operations at COTA before assuming the interim President and CEO role upon Stitt’s retirement. Was previously the Chief Engineering Officer for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia, where he oversaw the procurement and maintenance of the system’s bus fleet. Also headed up the roll-out of a new electric bus line.

Adelee Marie Le Grand – Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Transdev, a company that manages hundreds of transit systems around the world. Le Grand has worked for the past two years in New Orleans, developing a strategic mobility plan for the Regional Transit Authority there. She also spent many years in Atlanta working on some of the region’s major transit projects, including the Atlanta Beltline.

Richard Krisak – Has been the Chief Operating Officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) since 2012, responsible for the system’s bus, metro rail, streetcar and mobility services. The system has a daily ridership of about 460,000. Krisak also oversaw the initial startup and operations of several major commuter and light rail systems, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), METRORail in Houston, and Capital MetroRail in Austin.

Michael Ford – Served as CEO of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan from 2014 to 2017, and ran the Ann Arbor Transit Authority before that. Ford was dismissed from the RTA, which serves the Detroit region, after allegations arose about excessive spending of public money on personal travel and other expenses. The dismissal also followed the narrow defeat by voters of a regional mass transit tax that would’ve funded improved buses as well as bus rapid transit and light rail networks.

A CEO Search Executive Profile, prepared by consultant BeecherHill, laid out in general terms the priorities and desired qualifications of the new hire:

The CEO will utilize his/her experience in transportation to create a clear vision for COTA as a platform for increasing economic prosperity for all residents of the Columbus region. By helping guide the community’s agenda for reinventing mobility in the Columbus region, the CEO will accelerate COTA’s relevance, influence and impact.

The document also summarizes COTA’s recent accomplishments – like the Transit System Redesign, the NextGen plan, Smart Columbus, and the successful levy renewal vote last year – and makes the case that the new CEO would have an opportunity to build on that momentum as the Columbus region adds an estimated million additional residents in the next 30 years.

COTA currently employs about 1,200 people and provides 19 million passenger trips a year, according to the document. The agency’s stated goal is to get to 25 million riders by 2025.

Angie Schmitt, who writes about transit for StreetsBlog, said that overall it appears that COTA has “some strong candidates,” and that Krisak’s inclusion in the list is particularly intriguing because of MARTA’s recent history.

“The agency really turned around its image and performance and political standing under the former CEO, Keith Parker, who was a favorite of ours (at Streetsblog),” she said. “I know nothing about people below him at the agency, but maybe a higher up like Krisak would deserve some credit.”

Although she stressed that it’s important not to dismiss Williams as a candidate just because he is local, “sometimes when agencies want a visionary and are planning to make big moves, they hire from out-of-town.”

The selection committee plans to makes its final recommendation to the COTA board after the interviews, which are scheduled for December and January.

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