WA: Final Ferry Director Candidates Pitch Cases

June 11--BREMERTON -- Half the state hates the ferry system. The other half doesn't like it, says John Ladenburg, who'd like to change those perspectives.

To get the chance, the former Pierce County executive will need to be selected as the next Washington State Ferries director instead of George Capacci, the inside candidate.

The finalists stumped for support during a meet-and-greet event Tuesday evening at the Norm Dicks Government Center. The only person each ultimately needs to convince, however, is Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, who expects to decide within nine days.

Peterson, Gov. Jay Inslee's deputy chief of staff and DOT's human relations director conducted final interviews with Ladenburg on Tuesday and Capacci on Wednesday.

Ladenburg and Capacci, WSF's operations and construction chief, and interim director since David Moseley retired in April, introduced themselves and their priorities before breaking into individual conversations with three dozen mostly politicians and community ferry leaders.

The two emerged from more than 80 candidates. Fifteen were deemed qualified and six received panel interviews.

Ladenburg, 64, said the ferry system has done some good things but has an image problem.

"I'm not saying it's poorly run. I'm saying there are other things you can do," he said, pointing to public awareness as an example. "Now it's in a place where it has good numbers, but if you go outside this room, nobody knows anything about the ferry system, and they don't care. ... We've got to reach out and make the rest of the state understand what and who the ferry system is."

Ladenburg has made a career of turning outfits around. The Pierce County Prosecutor's Office was viewed as corrupt. He was elected prosecutor and by the time he left 14 years later, it was highly respected, he said. As a four-year board chairman for Sound Transit, he led a revival from worst transit authority in the country to best, he said. During eight years as county executive, he helped Pierce became a regional player.

"I want to come in and do this job because as hard as it is to do -- it has a lot of internal challenges -- you have to have a plan," he said.

Capacci, 61, said Washington State Ferries has done more than some good things, it's a bellwether for systems around the globe. It's achieving performance standards laid out by the Legislature, such as on-time rates, and the fleet has been "revitalized" with several new boats. The next step is to revitalize the workforce, much of which is nearing retirement age.

"We now need to invest in our employees," he said. "We have to think about succession planning and how to bring the next generation along. That's one of my big priorities."

Capacci said the system's poor reputation isn't warranted.

"Media attention on Washington State Ferries is not justified," he said. "A few people brought it and that has demoralized the workers."

Six years ago, Moseley, an expert in organizational and strategic planning with no ferry experience, replaced Mike Anderson, who rose through WSF to the top post. This time, it's a choice between one or the other.

Capacci graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served 20 years. He worked as port captain with the Alaska Marine Highway System and was vice president responsible for fleet operations with BC Ferries.

"I'm the sailor in front of you," said Capacci, who joined WSF in 2010. "My goal was to be standing in front of you telling you about my desire to be director of Washington State Ferries."

Another priority is continuing to pursue efficiencies, such as hybrid- and liquid natural gas-powered vessels, and an expanded reservations system.

The first and most frequent question Ladenburg gets is: Why would he want such a job?

"Because I like challenges," he said. "I've made tough decisions. I know how to run an organization."

Capacci heard the same question from his wife about applying for this and previous difficult positions.

"I'm passionate, I live it, I enjoy what I do," he answered.

Comments can be phoned to 360-705-7059 or emailed to KoskaT@wsdot.wa.gov.

Copyright 2014 - Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.