On Monday, the King County Council unanimously voted to separate Metro from the Department of Transportation and make the agency an autonomous, cabinet-level department. In the same meeting, the council unanimously voted to keep Rob Gannon as the director of the agency; as an autonomous department, the Metro director is now a political appointee, rather than a civil service position.
Since its inception, Metro has long been a part of King County’s Department of Transportation. KCDOT administers Boeing Field, the West Seattle Water Taxi, county roads, and the county’s vehicle fleet. Metro has run more or less autonomously for years, but was still supervised by the KCDOT director.
“It’s organizational authority and flexibility,” says King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “It gives you more ability to set your own destiny. That extra layer of bureaucracy might not sound like much, but it’s a real thing. I say that as someone who ran a department here.”
Balducci ran the county’s jails from 2010-14. She said that, while she held that position, Metro’s head always sat in on cabinet meetings with the King County executive. That arrangement created awkward conflicts of interest, since the director of KCDOT—the Metro director’s boss—was also in on the meetings.
The change to the county organizational chart aside, but Balducci said that Metro’s coming spate of capital projects is one reason for the change.
“[Metro] will have a capital division—I’m pretty sure they didn’t before,” Balducci says. “Metro hasn’t done capital investment in a long time, but to implement the plans we have we’ll need a lot of capital investment.”
That capital investment includes large-scale RapidRide expansion. Metro is also in the early stages of siting and acquiring new bus base facilities.
Gannon’s leadership of Metro has earned acclaim, so his promotion was an easy decision for the council. Balducci praised Gannon’s leadership restructuring service through service changes. She also cited his work coordinating Metro service with other agencies, including Sound Transit.
Balducci also appreciates his leadership style. She agrees it’s a sharp contrast to Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff’s more aggressive methods. Officials including Jenny Durkan and Rob Johnson say Rogoff created a hostile workplace, something he and the agency are working to correct.
“[Gannon’s] such a softspoken, calm sort of guy,” Balducci says. “He doesn’t come at you with a big ego. He does bring a very high level of skill to his work, and I’m very pleased with it.”