Transportation

RIPTA Board Prioritizes Hunt for Permanent CEO, Hires Firm for National Search

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RIPTA CEO Christopher Durand, at left, said that he is interested in applying for the CEO position. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s board of directors, at a meeting Thursday afternoon, voted to hire a company to start searching for the agency’s next chief executive officer.

Merraine Group, based in Florida, will charge RIPTA a $60,000 fee to complete a national search for the position, including advertising costs. The contract gives Merraine four months to find, hire, and place a new CEO at RIPTA.

“It makes sense to go outside,” RIPTA board member Normand Benoit said. Benoit supported hiring the firm, saying the price was reasonable and using an outside agency to perform a search would convince Gov. Dan McKee and the General Assembly that RIPTA had done a thorough and adequate job.

“Putting an ad in the paper won’t work,” he added. “The right people don’t just show up at the door.”

Benoit noted that the contingencies placed in the contract if a CEO should fail incentivize Merraine to do a good job or RIPTA will get a “free bite at the apple,” should the person hired leave the position in their first year of work. (Merraine would charge $6,000 plus the cost of advertising if the CEO failed in the second year.)

Some board members raised concerns about a four-month search period being too long, but RIPTA counsel Christopher Fragomeni, whose firm was involved in recommending the chosen CEO search bid, said the process could finish ahead of that estimate and the contract suggests setting a start date for a CEO two months into the search process.

“Can any of this be done in-house, with the administration and board?” board vice chair Robert Kells asked.

“It’s a possibility,” Fragomeni said. “You might not get the same type of candidate that an executive search might bring you.”

Kells also asked whether the Florida-based firm would still consider Rhode Island candidates.

Board chair and Rhode Island Department of Transportation director Peter Alviti jumped in to say that he doesn’t want to limit the search to the Ocean State, though a local candidate also won’t be ruled out.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said, adding that he would like the new CEO to come in with new ideas.

“The final review of this position will be this board,” Alviti said.

The board also voted to table an operational analysis of the agency mandated by the General Assembly and governor until a new, permanent CEO has joined RIPTA.

Initially, the budget required RIPTA to submit the study by Jan. 1, 2024, a due date that’s been pushed back to March 1.

“I am very concerned about getting this thing going,” Benoit said, referring to the efficiency study. “This needs to have a lot of credibility.”

Benoit said he worried if RIPTA waited until Oct. 1, when a permanent CEO will likely be in place, the study will be done in a “really constricted time frame.”

Alviti said he would like to wait for the study so the permanent CEO will be able to own and guide it, while board member Patrick Crowley said he’d be worried about how an ongoing study may impact CEO candidates’ willingness to apply and accept a position.

Ultimately, the board did vote to table the commission of the study for now.

After the meeting ended, interim RIPTA CEO Christopher Durand told reporters that he is interested in applying for the CEO position.

“I’ve been here for nine years, I love this place,” said Durand, answering a question about why he’d be a better candidate than someone on the outside. He also cited the success RIPTA’s seen with a paid training for drivers as an example of his own fresh ideas.

“I take it seriously,” he added. “I appreciate the work.”

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  1. This is actually hopeful, that a search is being conducted by a search firm–not appointed by a higher up. Having lived here in Rhode Island for most of my life I was sure that, once again a political favor would be performed–an appointment of someone with questionable qualifications would step into the RIPTA Directorship role. Having been on search committees myself, the costs for the search reported are not out of line, they’re pretty much standard fare. I think for RIPTA employees, RIPTA riders, or just the general public it should inspire some degree of greater confidence. Imagine, a Director who is qualified to do the work who has experience in the transportation field heading RIPTA. I will file this news under the “good news” category.

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