Is OCTA Sacrificing Transit Service for Executive Pay?

will-kempton1.jpg
Courtesy of OCTA
Will Kempton moves to OCTA from Caltrans, where he has served for five years.
The hiring of Caltrans director Will Kempton for the Orange County Transportation Authority's vacant executive director position would seem like a step down. After all, the Schwarzenegger appointee oversees 50,000 lane miles of state highways, an annual budget of $14 billion and $10 billion in current transportation projects under way. He is expected to begin Aug. 3 at a regional agency with a $1.2 annual budget, monster cuts in bus service and a $33 million deficit.

"Finding a new CEO for OCTA with Will Kempton's transportation knowledge and experience at a time like this is a grand-slam home run for us and for everyone in Orange County," OCTA chairman Peter Buffa says in a press statement. "Will is one of the most respected leaders in transportation in the country, with a rock-solid reputation that will serve us well. We are very excited about having him join the OCTA team."

So how did the OCTA land such a heavy-hitter in Buffa's view? Perhaps it is all about money.  Perhaps it is not a step down but a soft landing. Kempton earned $150,000 a year up in Sacramento. According to the Orange County Register, the OCTA board approved a three-year deal for him that includes a $255,000 annual salary, $75,000 in relocation costs, six months severance, and $25,000 deferred compensation. That troubles Save California blogger Chris Walsh, who read about the Kempton move in the Sacramento Bee.

The main thing that struck me in the article was his reason for taking the CEO position at OCTA was due to higher pay. . . . Not only is he moving to a smaller agency, but OCTA is currently making heavy cuts to its bus services, and in the meantime not making any effort to improve and enhance its current transit operation.

That type of fiscal behavior by OCTA "is a blatant slap in the face" to transit riders and taxpayers.

This is costing Orange County residence a lot of money, and OCTA neglects to see that they are running a service like it's their own personal money bag. So instead of enhancing the transit system, they go and hire a new director at a high cost, fail to make salary cuts from within, and also fail to renegotiate contracts, and hang the riders and general public out to dry, in not supplying a well run transit system.

That's not entirely fair. The OCTA is cutting the pay of its top exec. Why, Art Leahy was pulling down a cool $266,656 annual base salary before he split for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
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