Editorial: RTD was right to reject $400,000 search budget for new general manager

Consider us pleased that the Regional Transportation District backed away from an ill-advised proposal to spend $400,000 on a search for a new general manager.

The tone-deaf proposal came as the transit agency faces mounting woes — responding to declining ridership and increasing driver and operator vacancies by reducing or eliminating many routes. Interim GM Paul Ballard — who formerly led the transit system in Fort Worth, Texas — faces challenges keeping buses on the street and trains on the track as he fills a vacancy left by Dave Genova, who retired in January.

The very idea that — in this or any environment — the agency would consider spending such an exorbitant sum trying to identify the best person to replace Genova felt like a slap in the face to RTD’s restless riders.

And it undoubtedly felt like a face slap to RTD employees. (How many bus drivers or train operators could be hired or retained for such a sum?)

At the same time, residents of Boulder and Longmont continue to fume at decades-long delays — another 30 years? 40 years? — in rail service, even though citizens of those communities have been paying higher taxes to fund FasTracks. (Frustration has even prompted a private group to propose its own rail solution for the northwest corridor.)

It’s understandable, with all of these challenges, that the agency would seek to hire a skilled executive to pull the agency out of its doldrums. But $400,000? It’s unbelievable that the agency would have even considered such a sum.

So, kudos to the RTD directors who rebelled at the idea, with the board eventually voting 10-5  to reduce the outlay by half, to $200,000.

While that amount still seems high, it’s at least in the ballpark of other executive searches nationwide and for similar positions around the state.

RTD’s executive search comes as state legislators consider measures to increase supervision of the agency, perhaps expanding the board of directors and providing greater ability for RTD to reduce fares.

It’s an interesting proposal. But the most important thing is for RTD to spend the $200,000 search budget wisely. It must identify a visionary leader, one who can right the ship quickly, devising a strategic plan to boost ridership and build a skilled workforce, including bus drivers and train operators. The new executive must rebuild trust with employees, riders and taxpayers.

And it should be someone who would reject out of hand spendthrift proposals.