CA: GET Board Members: We Won't Quit

Aug. 28--Two longtime Golden Empire Transit board members refused to resign Thursday despite mounting pressure to do so, setting up a potential fight between them and the Bakersfield City Council.

At a press conference at GET offices, Norris Ledbetter and Howard Silver said they're going to fight to keep their posts. The odds are not in their favor.

"If the City Council is looking to be involved in the operation and management of GET, by all means, remove Mr. Ledbetter and myself with our 38 years of experience on the GET board," Silver said, reading from a two-page prepared statement.

Ledbetter sat silent as Silver read it, referencing Bible verse, "false comments and stories" from members of the public including those on the joint city-county transportation committee, and accused the Teamsters Local 517 of engaging in "underhanded tactics" during the recent five-week bus strike.

Chester Suniga, the union's principal officer, did not respond to a telephone message requesting comment.

"I'm not going to resign. I know I'll be removed because they have the votes but that's their thing. This was my last year anyway," Ledbetter said in an interview.

His second four-year term expires in January.

Their announcement came in response to an Aug. 21 letter by Vice Mayor Ken Weir calling for them both to step down -- and warning that if they balked, the council would consider removing them at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Weir did not respond to a telephone message requesting comment.

The City Council, one of two groups of elected officials that each choose two GET board members, has been unhappy with route changes and the way they handled the strike.

Since its most recent meeting Aug. 13, a majority of the council have been publicly skeptical of the board's willingness and ability to hold CEO Karen King accountable to riders -- many of whom lost stops during 2012 route changes.

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, author of a failed motion Aug. 13 to remove the two men at the end of the strike, said his position is the same.

"We've got a huge problem here. I want the GET board and the people who work on GET ... I want them all to be on a team and work together. There was no togetherness (at the meeting), there was a lot of animosity. It felt like the culprits were more on the adminstration side than the other side," Maxwell said, adding his "gut feeling" is King should be terminated.

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, who summoned GET members Aug. 13 and authored a motion to remove them, said he agreed.

"I think it was very clear in the meetings we held that they failed to respond properly," said Rivera, a member of the joint city-county committee, pointing out GET board members did not answer questions about ridership numbers. "I guess they'll be reminded that they work for no one else but the public and they serve at the pleasure of the City Council."

Leticia Perez, Kern County Board of Supervisors chairwoman and a city-county committee member, said the stories it heard rang true.

"I could not understand how a group of people who purportedly served the public could listen to such heartbreaking stories from people who have been directly affected and not be moved," Perez said. "I think it's unfortunate that the GET bus board members feel so uncomfortable at listening to the public that they ostensibly serve."

After making their statements Thursday, Ledbetter and Silver said route changes are going to be made in response to public outcry.

One bus stop at the Bakersfield Homeless Center, one at BARC and two at Clinica Sierra Vista locations will be restored Oct. 5 -- but given the size of its service area, pleasing everyone is impossible.

"We cannot make changes because people seem to feel that 'Oh well, we'll get somebody in there and make these changes.' I've got news for whoever is going to follow in our steps, if that is what the council desires -- it's not that easy," said Silver, a board member since 1984.

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