Regional News

Top Houston Officials Exit Metro, City Finance

DALLAS — The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is restructuring its management in the wake of a funding controversy involving light-rail expansion in the Houston area.

Metro chief financial officer Louise Richman is the sixth top manager to leave this year. Susan Bailey, formerly of the Houston comptroller's office, replaced Richman.

George Greanias, who replaced chief executive Frank Wilson after Wilson's departure in May, called the moves a restructuring. Five of the positions were eliminated, saving the authority $500,000, he said.

Others exiting were Tom Hickey, associate vice president, Dick White, acting vice president of infrastructure and service development, Joanne Wright, chief of staff, and Rich Lobron, director of strategic technologies. George Smalley, vice president of communications and marketing, will also leave this month.

The moves came after Houston Mayor Annise Parker replaced five of nine Metro board members in March. Parker had sharply criticized Metro, saying it had not made enough progress on light-rail lines and harmed its public relations.

Five of Metro's board members are nominated by Houston's mayor and confirmed by its City Council. Two are appointed by the mayors of the authority's 14 member cities, and two are nominated by the Harris County judge and confirmed by the county commissioners.

The Metro shake-up coincides with the resignation of Houston finance director Michelle Mitchell "by mutual consent" with Parker. Mitchell, a former Goldman, Sachs & Co. executive and Merrill Lynch analyst, said she is returning to the private sector.

Houston is facing a severe financial crisis that has required deep job cuts, reduced services, and delayed capital projects, with more austerity expected in coming years.

Metro, which is seeking to expand its 7.5-mile light-rail system with federal funds, lost a $900 million grant for rail cars because of violations of federal procurement policies. By awarding the bid for rail cars to a Spanish company, Metro violated provisions of the Buy America rules.

Greanias believes the authority will qualify for the money by rebidding the contracts next year, but the problem is expected to cost Metro $40 million and delay rail expansion by a year.



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