TX: Metro CEO Search May be Nearing End

Jan. 22--Metropolitan Transit Authority officials are back to the task of finding a permanent CEO after a long hiatus, though there are indications the search won't last much longer.

Metro's board of directors is scheduled to meet Thursday in executive session and potentially emerge with a plan to hire a permanent CEO, according to the agency's agenda. Tom Lambert has been the interim CEO since December 2012, when George Greanias abruptly resigned.

At the time, Lambert, Metro's police chief for more than 31 years and more recently its executive vice president, said he was not a candidate for the permanent job.

"I have told the board it is a job I want in the interim," Lambert said in January 2013.

Tuesday, Lambert said he "would stay as long the board will have me," but he said it is up to the board to discuss the search on Thursday, and he didn't want to pre-empt the meeting.

In the past few months, board members have praised Lambert's leadership and ability to solve problems.

"The chief has done a dynamite job, and his team has done a dynamite job, there is no doubt," board chairman Gilbert Garcia said, referring to Lambert, during a December meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Garcia said several board members had suggested Lambert be considered for the permanent post.

Board members contacted Tuesday declined to discuss the likely outcome of the CEO search.

"It wouldn't be right to speculate," Burt Ballanfant said.

The board in April hired Krauthamer and Associates, an executive recruiting firm, to help with the CEO search. At the time, officials said they wanted someone with a strong transit-industry background, knowledge of operating a large bus and rail operation, and executive-level management experience.

Since April, when the board hired the search firm, Metro's leadership has not met to discuss the vacancy, potential candidates or scheduling interviews. The search firm and Metro officials delayed the process for the latter half of 2013 because of Houston's mayoral race. The mayor appoints a majority of the Metro board, and citywide races can affect both appointments to Metro and the agency's overall direction.

Metro is the largest transit system in Texas and one of the largest in the nation, operating 1,200 buses and a growing rail system. It has the 12th largest bus system and 13th largest light rail system in the nation, based on current ridership data.

The new CEO should be capable of managing a bus and rail agency and a large organization, Ballanfant said. The job doesn't necessarily require a lifelong transit expert, he said. Ballanfant said either a local candidate or one from outside the Houston area could lead Metro effectively.

"I am probably agnostic on that particular point," Ballanfant said. "A CEO who has the personality characteristics that are right can come from anywhere."

The contract with Krauthamer paid the firm one-third of the future CEO's salary, up to $116,000. Lambert currently makes $235,000, so based on his salary Krauthamer would receive $78,255.

Lambert has been with Metro for 35 years. Previously he was an Austin policeman.

If chosen, Lambert won't be the first interim to hang onto the job. Greanias also came in as a temporary replacement until board members tapped him to stay.

Copyright 2014 - Houston Chronicle

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