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Part I: Island Transit Staff Withdrawal of Grant Application Without Board Input

Island Transit, once again engages in a modus operandi of withdrawing Island Transit services without Island Transit Board input or public scrutiny. Just as Island Transit supposedly did not inform its board of its declining finances (e.g. report, STB Report on the State Auditor’s Office lashing of Island Transit) or of its second rounds of cuts where Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson said “she wanted to reopen the agency’s service cut decisions because the board was not allowed to provide direction” to the South Whidbey Record; an Island Transit bureaucrat – most likely Executive Assistant to the Director – on 18 November contacted the Skagit-Island Special Needs Transportation Committee to withdraw its, “Specific Operating Assistance to Preserve Existing Service project” application which according to a Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) document, “would continue operations of the 411 County Connector express service from Whidbey and Camano islands” and “is the highest priority of their agency.” Basically the process to apply for state support for Island County’s participation in the Tri-County Connectors of Whatcom-Skagit-Island-Snohomish has stalled even before reaching the state legislature due to Island Transit staff unilaterally withdrawing the funding request without Island Transit Board input.

Island Transit through this process did apply and get forwarded the request for 10 new vehicles, as per Skagit-Island Human Services Transportation Project Descriptions, 2015-2017, “This project would replace five 30’ buses and five vans in Island Transit’s fleet. 70% of Island Transit’s vehicles are at the end of their life cycle according to the application.”

Island Transit did also apply and get forwarded the request for human services grants – basically grants to help disabled persons – for according to the same source, “technology replacements for security cameras and tablet computers. Project would also repaint Oak Harbor transit station, which has never been repainted, add bus shelters and provide needed maintenance tools and engine rebuilds.”

However, in a 2014-11-26 Island County Sub Region RTPO Hearing of which the audio is now online, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson voiced concern about Island Transit’s lack of priorities. For Commissioner Johnson – a Chamber of Commerce Republican – it was about how Island Transit was taking a “human service transportation projects funding list and we’re going to paint buildings with that money? That’s odd to me. … How is paint helping anybody with a disability?” Commish Johnson went on to bemoan the lack of funds for disabled persons and besmirched Island Transit to be “not creative” with these funds.

Finally, in a through, thoughtful smackdown of the grants process, Commissioner Johnson said she’s, “sad, slash disappointed there’s money there for a community of people we try so hard to help and we’re using it to buy paint and the only thing that came forward was paint. … Just shameful, I guess, the focus I hear is the impact of the Paratransit and we can’t get enough of these routes and shoot, this was designated just for this purpose.”

Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson – no relation to Jill Johnson – noted how Whidbey Island “had a high percentage of veterans that depend on the services in Mount Vernon for medical care” and “there’s no project to help that” with her hand hitting the table. As Commissioner and an Island Transit Boardmember, she wants “other opportunities in the near horizon” while looking for a strategic fix. NAS Whidbey Island Community Liaison Jennifer Meyer immediately suggested other transit providers work for the “combination of needs” in a “broad sense” for our vets, before the discussion moved on to other grant applications.

Commissioner Price-Johnson said sincerely she was, “sad about the Tri-County Connector, very sad, hopeful we might find some creative way to continue that service outside of this grant cycle because its vital.” In the past, Commissioner Price-Johnson has fought for the route but is denied the opportunity so far this time.  More after the jump for Part II: The forewarnings of this development…

Part II: The Forewarnings

Problem is, Island Transit’s leaders have known for some time the finances of the agency have been under duress. For instance, Island Transit’s former Financial Director Sandra Kuykendall went on record back in January 2010 as saying with my emphasis:

As finance manager, Sandra has helped Island Transit through some tough financial times in recent years, which were alleviated when voters approved a sales tax increase last year. That kicked in the first of the year, and the transit system will see the first revenue from it in a couple of months. Dependent on the sales tax, Island Transit has seen receipts fall by 9 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2009, due to the recession. “This will fill in for that,” Sandy said of the new revenue. “It’s scary.”

So Island Transit’s now taxed to the max of its sales tax capacity. Island Transit still went ahead and sought an extravagant new headquarters instead of one more right-sized and less controversial & draining of Island Transit reserves. For several years, Island Transit insiders have told the author the Tri-County Connectors of both Oak Harbor-Mount Vernon & Camano Island-Everett have survived solely on state support with Island Transit’s finances under stress.

Again, the Island Transit bureaucrat placed the withdrawal on 18 November. Two days later, State Senator Curtis King, Chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee (Republican/GOP) said regarding the Tri-County Connector services’ future with my emphasis and brackets for clarity starting at 15:29 of this Vimeo:

“That there was a [an] indication that this body no longer approved or had not provided funding for a connector service that had been funded and that all of us as legislators and particularly those from that district were accused of not having, you know, not making anybody aware of that and I want the public to know that, that decision was made by this body [Washington State Legislature], in, I think in 2013, and that, that Island Transit was informed of that decision, that we would no longer be funding that tran, that connector, they were well aware of that and I want the public to know that. That they would have to apply for funds just like every other agency would have to apply which had not been the case before that.

Rep. Dave Hayes of the 10th Legislative District (Republican/GOP) which represents Island County back on 27 June 2014 forewarned, “Island Transit must recognize that temporary grants and legislative bailouts are not sustainable sources of funding, and it needs to make the same commitment as Skagit Transit to cover the costs “in house” as promised” (emphasis added) plus noted last summer Island Transit had a, “top to bottom failure in accountability.” It is clairvoyant Island Transit getting state support is becoming of questionable value, especially as there’s the aforementioned comments by State Senator King and as Representative Hayes made clear last month, “Until Island Transit starts charging fares and operating in a more responsible manner, it will be a huge challenge to get additional state dollars.”

Now that the grant application by Island Transit funds has been withdrawn without Island Transit Board knowledge, debate or consent; the Tri-County Connector link from Whidbey Island via the Deception Pass Bridge & Mount Vernon’s Skagit Station to Camano Island plus Skagit, Whatcom and Snohomish Counties is now in grave danger.  Island Transit must either reenter the grant process, request Skagit Transit provide the services, privatize the route, find a means of additional revenue to make the match such as advertising, or cease services and watch public support dissolve while threats of putting Island Transit’s taxation authority to a vote could become action in 2015 placing Island Transit in a political predicament with few allies.

Programming Note: I am currently drafting an editorial that, I can promise you, I am capping at 500 words.  This one went long so all the context was “out there”.  We at STB Page Two got the scoop thanks to a dear Republican supporter of our efforts who happened to be in the room when the news broke to him.  As such wanted to give my readers a through report.  Through.

16 Replies to “North by Northwest 33: Island Transit Staff Decide to Cut 411W Tri-County Connector Without Public Input? No Island Transit Link to Anacortes, Mount Vernon & Points Beyond After…?”

  1. This is becoming disapointing. It’s stating that they cannot afford to continue service to connect with other agencies and yet they apply for a grant to replace buses and repaint the station. Instead of getting the grant for new buses, reenter the grant to help save the connector because so many people rely on it and there will be an outburst if cut completely. Granted there are quite a few buses that are due for replacement, I doubt they are that horrible that they desperately need to be replaced, just as long as they are maintained properly. I wouldn’t know for sure because I never got the chance to drive for them but at one point I was a regular rider. Getting Skagit Transit to help out will be tough. Although they agreed to help out by meeting halfway, they declined to add a stop outside of Stanwood on the 90X when the 412 was canned because they feared it will make a tighter schedule. The director for Skagit is nice but he is wise when it comes to planning and spending. And as for the fares, their excuse is it would cost too much to install on all of their buses, which is true. Even the generic ones are pretty pricey to install. But to withdraw from the grant without input from the board or public, that’s going to more fuel to whatever else they are already burning.

    1. I’m of the view if Island Transit can just get to March’s Point near Anacortes, that is a-okay. Disgusted how this is all leaking on the blogosphere.

      Says a lot about our local governments and the anemic state of the media, eh?

      Finally, I am going to inquire on behalf of Camano Island about having Community Transit & Island Transit work out some kind of link-up between the two since the Everett Connector is likely dead. Have tipped off Camano-Stanwood’s newspaper…

    2. I would add as well: IF this service goes down, I can see the Chambers of Commerce on Whidbey wondering why are they paying 0.9% sales tax and not getting true connectivity?

      It is nearing the tipping point of anger before a ballot measure on the future of Island Transit hits. If so, I doubt very seriously if the Tri-County Connectors are dead that Island Transit will have any STB help. Any.

  2. Once again, Island Transit does what it wants without regard to any governing body and the Board is too stupid to ask any questions. Island Transit Staff Decide to Cut 411W Tri-County Connector Without Public Input? No Island Transit Link to Anacortes. Island Transit, once again engages in a modus operandi of withdrawing Island Transit services without Island Transit Board input or public scrutiny. Helen Price-Johnson is claiming Island Transit is in the black. Based on some dream she may have had of being able to tell people what she thinks is truth instead of reality much like Martha Rose handled the affairs of this circus. Now, the only Board member asking questions is being railroaded out by the Oak Harbor city council in an attempt to silence anyone claiming the emperor is not wearing clothes. No 411 will mean more driver cuts and still no realignment of the bloated administrative staff. How much more do the actual employees who do the real work of transit have to suffer while management reaps the rewards of other people’s hard work? These drivers need to form a UNION to protect themselves from the personal greed of the administrative forces at Island Transit. Drivers have lost benefits and are working over 30 hours per week but are not allowed to have benefits reinstated. But yet according to the members of the Board, Island Transit is back in the black and building reserves.
    Let’s review what it takes to have an interim director: Under the negotiated agreement, Graska will be a contract employee and earn $62.50 an hour. He will receive a housing allowance of up to $1,350 a month, car allowance of up to $400 a month and airfare allowance of up to $350 a month.
    Who will monitor the hours worked? The current administrative staff does not work a forty hour week yet they are paid to do so. A car allowance of $400 a month, does this mean he will not receive a free Prius like the other administrative staff or does he receive both? And again who monitors this? An airfare allowance, why? A housing allowance, great, how many other employees get their rent paid? Once again who is going monitor the hours and the extended benefits? Is it the same group who monitored Martha Rose’s crime she perpetrated with lying about vacation and sick hours on Island County with Bob Clay’s blessing?

    1. I share your anger totally at this situation. I’m angry and disgusted that once again, Island Transit makes more enemies. Whether it’s impugning the State Auditor’s Office, cutting services multiple times without board input, the lying & fiscal gamesmanship, the Martha NonRose tenure, the maltreatment of the real action figures of Island Transit; Island Transit sure knows how to accumulate enemies.

      Of the view if no link to Skagit County is possible and/or if Scott Studley is toppled, I would make the prediction the Oak Harbor Chamber members will start working with Island Politics to put Island Transit’s existence on the ballot.

  3. This is unbelievable. Metro and Community Transit consider it a legal duty and good business to publish all their proposals, and their boards monitor the operations so closely it’s hard to imagine the staff could do something significant without informing the board or even thinking that they could or should do so. If Metro did this, Constantine would clean house and demand reports and status updates. This points to complete incompetence in the Island Transit board for not setting decision-making standards and strategic directions. That’s not something I say lightly because I always give organizations and people the benefit of the doubt. It was a minor fault that the board didn’t second-guess false reassurances that finances were fine, but it’s a major fault that they didn’t step in and reorganize the agency and set standards when the problems came to light.

    So it’s left to the residents to do it. But those who want to dissolve Island Transit have to say what they’d replace it with. Reverting to just private taxis is unacceptable, and I’m sure that’s what they have in mind because “transit is socialist”. Maybe the transit has to revert to a small sustainable core and build up from there, but who’s going to do it? Realistically it has to be this Island Transit or a new Island Transit. Which could mean the county taking it over rather than a TBD, as King County did with Metro. But it has to be something. What is Island County doing? Is it making any contingency plans to save transit if necessary?

    1. Mike;

      I’m like you. Unbelievable, incredible, abominable, cynical and theatre of the absurd are all words & phrases that come to mind.

      As to your 2nd paragraph, right now I’m just making clear the political winds are brewing here. The plan might be to put paratransit in the hands of Island County Government and kill the rest of it off because that .9% sales tax to the max is rubbing folks the wrong way. Most of those ignited to slay Island Transit have played along because Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley is on the board due to this crisis. If Dudley is overthrown by Oak Harbor City Council, all bets for Island Transit are off. Off.

      Oh and if my link to Island County is cut off, I’m not just going to support slaying Island Transit but any and all Washington State grants for Island County roads. We provide transit so those who can’t or won’t drive can use those same subsidized roads. Yeah, it’s gonna get ug-ly unless this route can be saved… real ugly.

  4. Joe & everyone;

    Some months back they already cut the 411W to only go as far as March’s Point. Check today’s timetable.

    With service cut back that far, should it qualify for a state grant? It now only connects to the bare minimum, unlike the days when it was a service to multiple counties.

    1. I think it should qualify for a smaller grant, being that the goal of linking Whidbey to Skagit is accomplished.

  5. Can this shame get any worse? Scott Dudley replaced on Island Transit Board. The only person allowed to ask questions has been ousted from an organization that needs to be questioned? Heads in the sand do not have clear vision as to how to fix the problem which is Island Transit. At this point the management and Board of Directors are a complete joke. They complain their pay raise was a slap in their face as they watch Island Transit continue to run bankrupt. It is time to disband Island Transit in its entirety and turn it over to another transit company to run such as Skagit Transit or Community Transit. Island Transit continues to run in the red taking grant money given for specific purposes and spending the funds on whatever they feel is appropriate. Deferring payments and claiming they are, “in the black.” Yet employees still have benefits stripped and denied while the administrative staff suffers no cut backs. Island Transit does what it wants regardless of the law. Such as the payout of $100,000 to a former director who was revealed to have fraudulently reported sick and vacation time. The Para Transit services which are operating out of bounds for a select few only. The Route 5 has been canceled yet Para buses continue to serve a select few on this defunct route under the guise of a “grandfather clause” which does not exist. The ADA rules are very specific as to what area is covered. Only a corridor along existing routes during route hours only will be covered by Para services. No differing in what the ride is for as long as the rider is preapproved to use Para service. There is no reason for a Para bus to be driving on East Harbor Road; this is an out of bounds area. Yet Island Transit Para service has been granted for select riders in this area. A young Para rider who is enrolled in a para art class must walk three miles along this road which has no shoulder because she has lost para service. But the para buses pass her by taking another para rider home in this area. Once again, Island Transit is in clear violation of the Federal Law which provides the public funding for this service and the Board has put their head in the sand. The criminal investigation into Island Transit must reach further then the theft of hours by the former Director and stop the current administration from continued crimes against the tax paying public. Bob Clay I have asked to publish your recovery plan to no avail. It is past time for Island Transit to continue in this fashion it must be dissolved or taken over by a reputable organization.

    1. I’m so upset by it I can barely write in a civil tongue.

      You’re right on the money.

  6. Continuing operations are not eligible for grants. If staff withdrew this because they understood that it doesn’t qualify under the terms of the program that they were applying for, would that be a more reasonable explanation?
    Agencies have to apply for new services that will meet currently unmet needs or projected growth. They have to dedicate growth in revenue or other fiscal sources to picking up the tab for continuing operations when the grant runs out.
    imho Island Transit needs to start charging a fare, At the same time continuing senior, youth and low income as free but with a pass. Use Orca. Charge a hefty tourist Day Fare and take people all the way from Clinton to Anacortes and Everett to Camano.
    Merging with the County would work but could make it more difficult to work with local jurisdictions.
    IT’s Board could dissolve IT and purchase service directly from neighboring agencies or a private operator.
    Merging with Skagit Transit would be beneficial to both agencies. I don’t know what the tax rates are but I think the legislature would authorize a merged agency with different rates and subarea equity like Sound Transit has. They may even be persuaded to throw in some rescue money for the glory of efficiency by consolidating management. Republicans have a say now and tend to be more of the opinion that when someone or some organization fails willfully, that there ought to be some punishment dished out. But they understand that punishment shouldn’t fall hard on the users and taxpayers who have approved the use of funds for a specific purpose and been let down by the stewards they trusted.
    Who knows? it may work out to be better…
    1/2 full today. All the way tomorrow.

    1. Great ideas.

      I have two hours of RTPO meeting to listen to plus an overdue Swift + 5 years post to write before I write up a summary of the week that was in Island Transit, but stay tuned.

  7. The problem with Island Transit is they do not explain why they do anything. Pull the request for a grant without the Board’s approval or knowledge. Not that the Board has a clue of what is going on, they just try to spin damage control and politics instead of placing a clear direction on Island Transit’s recovery. Once again I challenge Bob Clay to put his much touted recovery plan on Island Transit’s website. I have also asked questions of Mr. Graska to no avail.

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