By Damien Newton, February 24, 2014
Metro recently released executive director of higway programs Doug Failing, shown here speaking at a safety press event.
“It’s a bloodletting.”
While Metro’s public relations team is portraying the departure of
several high-profile senior staff as nothing more than the by-product of
a reorganization, some in Metro’s personnel believe the staff shakeup
is being pushed by CEO Art Leahy to best prepare the agency for the
massive construction projects that are coming online.
As one Metro spokesperson, who was speaking on background as he is
not authorized to speak about personnel matters noted, Metro has
historically only worked on one rail transit project at a time. It is
currently building three, with two more projects about to come online. A
major change in the type of projects Metro is overseeing construction
of naturally leads to a change in the structure of the agencies project
But that can only explain so much of the “bloodletting.”
A second explanation is offered in the Pasadena Star-News.
Following a motion by Glendale City Councilmember and Metro Board
Member Ara Najarian, Metro hired professional consultants to examine the
agency. Their report showed an agency that is overstaffed leading to
Leahy’s effort to streamiline the agency.
“It’s an attempt to streamline the upper management of Metro and to
make sure we are operating as efficiently as possible,” Najarian said.
“We felt that it was getting a little too bureaucratic and at least at
the top level we were losing sight of our core mission and our core
direction and too much involved in the day-to-day management of
departments and divisions of departments.”
Michelle Lopes Caldwell, Metro’s chief administrative services
officer, Roger Moliere, Metro’s executive director in charge of real
estate, and Doug Failing, Metro’s executive director of highway
programs, have all left the company in recent weeks. Two different
sources, and the Los Angeles Times
are saying that Terry Matsumoto, the agency’s chief financial officer
is next. The departures are happening so quickly, that Metro’s online “management staff directory” has the wrong people listed as the heads of at least four departments.
The biggest departure is Doug Failing, who previously served 29 years at Caltrans including running the District 7 Office in Downtown Los Angeles. While
Metro staff assured me on Thursday that the long-time transportation
executive was just the victim of a reorganization. Both Failing and
Bryan Pennington were candidates for the new position heading the
construction department that will include highway and rail construction.
When Pennington was offered the position, Failing chose to retire.
At least that’s the quasi-official story. While Failing hasn’t
publicly commented on his departure, friends noted his LinkedIn account
now features a sarcastic comment about being laid off and unemployed.
Former colleagues, again speaking on anonymity, referred to Failing’s
departure as a “firing.”
Pennington was a manager in the rail delivery program, but not the
head of that division in Metro so his new position is a double-promotion
of sorts. He went from “upper-middle-management” to reporting directly
to the CEO heading a department double the size of the one he worked in
Pennington reported to K.N. Murthy, the former director of rail delivery, who will stay on at the agency in a new role.
Despite Failing being the head of a department that pushed some of Streetsblog readers least popular Metro programs,
the High Desert Corridor, the I-710 Big Dig and Carmageddon to name a
few, there was little doubt that he was well liked even among his
“The relentless pursuit of the 710 freeway projects is probably
Metro’s most misguided, mismanaged and fiscally disastrous undertakings
and Doug was probably ported over from Caltrans to further their
infernal highway pursuits,” writes Judy Bergestresser with the NO-710
Coalition. “…but he’s so darn likeable it’s hard to hold him
Questions about the future of the controversial 710 expansion
project, which Metro refers to as the “710 Gap Closure” project and
Streetsblog the “710 Big Dig”, has dominated the discussion of the
shakeup. Three of the key figures in pushing the highway expansion
project project despite its questionable value and political
controversy, were among those let go: Failing, Moliere, and Metro Public
Affairs Director Lynda Bybee.
Opponents of the 710 also note that it had been a dead project for
decades before it was revived by then Metro CEO Roger Snoble, Art
Leahy’s predecessor. Snoble’s been gone for half-a-decade, and the
former bus-driver that runs Metro might not be as excited by mammoth
highway projects..especially as the Sepulveda Pass Widening Project (the
origin of which preceded both Leahy and Failing) continues to be an
ongoing embarrassment: over budget, over promised, late and of such
questionable merit that even the Metro Board Members who represent the
area impacted by the project concede it was a mistake.
Partial funding for the 710 Big Dig is set aside in Measure R, but
nowhere near enough to begin construction, even if the project had
received environmental review which it has not. Funding for construction
does not come online until the end of the 30-year transit funding
measure. Of course, timelines can change.
Whether it’s a bloodletting or a needed restructuring, Metro is
losing a lot of experience and brain-power. Whether or not that will
lead to a more open and efficient agency remains to be seen. With so
much turnover at the top, either the credit or the blame for the fallout
from this shakeup can only stop at the very top.
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