North by Northwest 17: Island Transit CEO Out

“If any of us were faced with a huge bag of free money and very little accountability, it would be human nature that you would make the most of it.

Today, 19 September 2014 brought about the end of the Martha Rose Era at Island Transit.  Folks testified at the Island Transit meeting and took video – which will be uploaded as an update to this post – stating their deep concerns with the reports coming from anonymous Island Transit employees as well as Island Transit’s fare free policies.  There was also one Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley laying down a pasting to a point “he lost faith and competence” in the Executive Director.  In short, Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose was forced to hand in her resignation today and Island Transit Board Chairman Bob Clay has taken over emergency CEO responsibilities until at least September 24th at 4 PM/16oo Hours in a clear victory for transit users.

The Whidbey News-Times reported tonight :

The embattled executive director of Island Transit quit Friday after a tense meeting with the board of directors and an hour-long executive session.

It was unclear whether the board asked Martha Rose to turn in her keys during the closed-door session, or even whether she retired or resigned. The board members voted unanimously — with Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson participating via speakerphone — to accept Rose’s letter of resignation.

Afterward, Rose said she was retiring, not resigning.

Rose previously said she had no plans to leave, but changed her tune after the Oak Harbor City Council appointed Mayor Scott Dudley to the transit board on a temporary basis. He is filling in for Councilman Jim Campbell, who’s on an extended vacation.

Before the Whidbey News-Times reported, IslandPolitics.org got the scoop of the victory of accountability and I think the entire transit community sincerely hopes they are right that “a new era for Island Transit” has dawned.

Finally, Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson issued a statement I will copy-paste in full as Commish Price-Johnson illuminates issues the mainstream media has missed:

TRANSIT UPDATE  –  part 2

At this morning’s Island Transit meeting the Board took unanimous action to accept the immediate resignation of Executive Director Martha Rose. Though I was in Ellensburg for another meeting, I was able to participate in the vote by telephone. As per the bylaws, the Chair of the Board Bob Clay will serve as director while an interim executive is selected. A special meeting for this transition is scheduled for Wednesday September 24th at 4pm in the Transit Board room.

The Island Transit financial reports are showing positive gains. The auditor’s review is continuing. Martha Rose served Island County for 26 years and deserves credit for her role in building up the Island Transit system. But she acknowledged today that her presence had become a distraction to the important work of recovery. With the action today the Board will now focus on moving forward in rebuilding this vital system for the good of our community.

Operations staff is working on a draft plan for right-sizing of the transit runs which will be sustainable. Public input is encouraged. I will keep sending updates as this unfolds.

So will we at Seattle Transit Blog…  over to your comments.  Please keep them on-topic to Island Transit and try NOT to spike the football too much.  If for no other reason than there are some people who through NO fault of their own have lost a job serving the public through Island Transit…

North by Northwest 16: Cometh the Moment, Cometh the Man

I pick this quote because about 10 years ago, I was talking to the British Counsul General about Tony Blair and getting his autograph.  The Consul General taught me this phrase, a phrase I believe applies to Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley and his forces as they begin to save Island Transit.  I also pick this phrase for another reason… and am happy the Scots will likely as of posting remain British.

So getting back to STB’s mission here are some rapid-fire updates on the crisis building in Island Transit:

  • Earlier this week in a resounding, refreshing development the Oak Harbor City Council and the Oak Harbor Mayor quit their infighting and came together to send Mayor Scott Dudley to fight “scary” Island Transit mismanagement.  You can watch the video HERE.
  • Tomorrow morning at 0930 Island Transit will have a board meeting at their HQ (Agenda with address of meeting site).  I have a situation at a new job very likely keeping me away from this community confrontation.
    Please stay calm everybody and if you do sortie please keep your anger at home, realize the best six inches you got is your brain to paraphrase Marine General Mattis, and stand together – we are NOT Citizens Obviously Egregiously Repugnant jackrabbits who get their rocks off telling people to “bring your anger” to public meetings.
  • Apparently Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose is in for one rough ride after a letter she sent Island Transit Board Members today with these statements:
    • “It was pretty obvious to see that the budget deficit shocked you all. That certainly wasn’t the intent. We have been finding so many errors. Just Monday of last week we discovered that there were two entries for a single grant entered into the budget; in other words, twice the amount we really have/had.”
    • “Unfortunately, the files for the facilities project, as well as the files for the accountability audit were/are a disaster; nothing had been filed correctly; files have been found in archive documents that are not archive documents. We continue to be shocked with what we’re discovering and we’re completely mystified. The audit book that historically has kept all the information we know the SOA will ask for during the audit for the given year, was not done. “
    • “Unfortunately for the single audit on the Facilities Project, we have been unable to locate the back-up documentation for the prevailing wage checks on vendors. Joe Anastasi, through a contract with URS, was responsible for doing all that work. I reviewed those documents with Joe during the time he was here so I know that they physically exist. When Joe passed, some of the boxes he used and filled up (Joe was fantastic!) were turned over to Gary Hess and the rest of Joe’s boxes are ‘somewhere’ with URS at their Seattle offices. I have repeatedly asked URS but no one is able to find those particular documents. Part of the URS contract included an individual with URS who was charged with the responsibility of verifying that the Contractor submitted certified payroll and reviewing that the prevailing wage requirements were met. We have hounded both Gary and URS for those documents but nothing has come forward since. I am sure that we will get a finding for this lack of documentation. URS states in their documents that they practice a ‘No Surprise’ policy. We were surprised.”
  • Finally and most importantly a group of patriots is coming together to put together a posse to deal with the mismanagement of Island Transit.  You can check them out on Facebook and note how Bill Burnett of IslandPolitics.org is calling for Island Transit’s elimination.  You’ve been forewarned folks…

North by Northwest 15: Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson Statement…

Just Practicing My Motion Blur on an Island Transit Bus...

Just got this statement a few hours ago.  Posted in full below with my bold – and then my rather brisk commentary.  Here goes.

Joe


TRANSIT UPDATE  

As an Island County Commissioner I serve as one of five elected officials from across county who meet monthly as the Public Transit Authority. The Board members knew that a portion of cash reserves were going to be used to match the federal grant used to build the new transit facility – a much needed capital investment. However the monthly financial reports the Island Transit Board received were inaccurate. What was discovered this spring was an ongoing cash shortfall in the operations budget. Action was taken swiftly to address the problem as it was described, but it was subsequently found that the depth of the shortfall was larger than first reported. Executive Director Martha Rose acted to implement emergency measures restoring fiscal balance to the organization. This included cutting administrative staff in June and July, reducing several routes and cutting Saturday service on September 1.

Executive Director Rose claimed full responsibility for this situation. She fired the finance manager for withholding vital information, and conducted an internal audit to review and rebuild the financial reports. The State Auditor’s office in currently examining the details and their report is expected next month. Legal counsel has been contacted to examine whether there was any crime committed. The Board has taken action to increase transparency and public access to financial reports. Stronger checks and balances have been put in place to prevent this from happening again. The Board is holding special meetings to stay abreast of the developments and take necessary actions.

The routes cut on South Whidbey have impacted families, workers and some of our most vulnerable citizens. Transit staff is drafting a plan for a complete revamp of the system to put out for public input. Individuals should contact Island Transit staff to share their concerns and suggestions. A short term and long term strategy is needed to restore a viable level of public transportation services.

Many folks have asked if charging a fare would solve the problem. Probably not. A quick review of similar sized transit systems  shows only a 10% average collection of revenues from fares. Whether or not charging fares would have more negative outcomes such as reducing ridership and increasing costs, than the positive cash it would generate, is not certain. It would be helpful to put this question to rest in the months ahead.

Island County wants and deserves a transit system which is dependable, sustainable, flexible and responsive. We can and must work together to achieve that goal.


Thank you Commish.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. I agree Island Transit needed a new headquarters.  Neither the new HQ nor fare free caused this fiscal mess – rather bad fiscal management by the finance manager and the Island Transit Executive Director did.
  2. Claiming and taking “full responsibility for this situation” are two different things. Between this crisis and hearing Island Transit Boardmembers still befuddled at what’s transpired financially in just the last 90 days – especially at last Friday’s special meeting, I request the Island Transit Board to have a public confidence vote in their Executive Director in the next 45 days…
  3. I would hope that criminal investigation is well underway.  So would most of the Seattle Transit Blog community.
  4. Although it’s obvious this statement was in the works for some time, last night’s sortie about how Fare Free did not cause Island Transit’s problems and I argue would only catastrophically add to them sure was timely.

Finally, Island Transit has a Board Meeting in their Coupeville HQ at 0930 Hours on Friday.  Just so you know.

North by Northwest 14: Fare Free Did NOT Cause Island Transit’s Fiscal Crisis…

Island Transit Gillig Parked in Oak Harbor...

Full Disclosure @ the Outset: At an early point in the crisis, I publicly voiced a willingness to pay a fare for Island Transit services.  Especially if I could see & hear OLF Coupeville.  However, the fact it seems the “fare free” policy is being used by some to blame riders for the fiscal crisis Island Transit has entered, it’s time to push back against this dangerous narrative of blaming riders for management failures.

I am now taking the refined view that before asking us transit users that already subsidize roads through general taxes (SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2)… please note we transit users do not:

  • Have a single representative on the Island Transit Board – only elected officials with other responsibilities such as First Responders, land use, parks, etcetera which diminishes the importance of transit and the ability of transit riders to write policy and influence election debates for these positions.
  • Have hire/fire power over the Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose or her staff
  • Hire finance directors who fail to produce a monthly balance sheet the Executive Director ignores
  • Write transit budgets
  • Produce budgets with failed/incorrect numbers
  • Have a Board Chair to authorize an additional 100 Hours of Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) staff time to help conduct the most important accountability audit in Island Transit’s history
  • Cause Island Transit board members to be confused and befuddled at times during recent meetings (I’ve listened to the audio)

Therefore how can the tone of the debate be turned to blame US the transit users for and also demand we transit users subsidize fiscal mismanagement?  Seriously.

Yes a fare may be a good idea but we transit users are mainly being relegated to the sidelines.  Most Island Transit users aren’t able to attend 9 AM or 9:30 AM Island Transit Board meetings and yet everybody wants a quick fix to Island Transit’s problems.  There also have been public promises made by the Whidbey Tea Party blog Island Politics to repeal the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) if a fare is implemented and right now is the worst time possible for Island Transit to agree to a public vote without new leadership and rebuilding public trust.  Even Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson – no Democrat-In-Name-Only – who sits on the Island Transit Board is applying the pressure to seek a study into transit fares.

But we transit users know the truth that if you collect fares, you’re absolutely going to add time and physical resources into collecting those fares.  First when you have to insert change that takes a few seconds – and if a few dollar bills possibly a minute per rider if the machine doesn’t like the dollar bill.  Trust me, I’ve had that embarrassment at 6:30 AM in a Sedro-Woolley parking lot enough to the point I change dollar bills into coin the night before and preload my ORCA for trips south of the Snohomish-Skagit County line when I can.  Not everybody’s going to be that thoughtful.

Therefore, transit schedules are going to get hurt – which means missed connections from Island Transit to Skagit Transit and Washington State Ferries.  Not to mention stresses on multiple Island Transit runs.  Why have Tri-County Connectors funded by state taxes if the connections cannot be made to keep Washington State counties connected?

Or Island Transit is going to have to buy, fuel, operate and maintain many more buses to expand the transit fleet adding costs that would easily eliminate any farebox recovery?  More buses just to provide the services Island Transit already provides but with a fare added with the cumulative time needed to collect the fare – a major problem when Island Transit has to go farther than Everett to Seattle but connect directly Oak Harbor with the Washington State Ferries’ terminal in Clinton.

Then there’s the security risks of driver assault and highway robbery.  Risks no security camera can eliminate, only fare-free.

Finally, remember when I noted there is not a single transit user representative on the Island Transit Board – only elected officials with other responsibilities?  Perhaps the groupthink has blinded Island Transit to a revenue raising solution that would not punish riders and would give business opportunities called advertising on the exterior of the buses.  Perhaps the fact is in a brisk Seattle Transit Blog interview, Island Transit Board Chairman Bob Clay stated “No” he did not “believe fare free policies contributed to Island Transit’s fiscal problems?”  Perhaps it is time come mid- to late-October, when the State Auditor’s Office audits of Island Transit are made public, some difficult decisions are made about Martha Rose’s future with Island Transit – if not sooner.  Perhaps finally it is time to restructure the Island Transit Board and other transit boards around this state so folks are directly elected to transit boards.

One last time, I am unopposed to a fare on the principle.  I am raising concerns about the logistics of an Island Transit fare.  Logistics of an Island Transit fare that seem bordering on insurmountable but being greased in the name of political expediency and championed by some in the general public to punish riders.  Perhaps other revenue-raising options ought to be seriously sought out like wrapping buses (Example 1- King County Metro, Example 2 – Pierce Transit) or putting signs below the windows of buses (Example 1 – Sound Transit) before putting more stress on Island Transit balance sheets – as part of a backup plan if grants don’t materialize in the works somehow.


Finally, I would like to thank Island Transit Board Chairman Bob Clay for briskly answering a few quick questions today to help with this editorial and debunk some reports out there.  Much appreciate.

North by Northwest 13: The Curious Case of Everett Transit Stop #5245…

The Curious State of Everett Transit Stop #5245

Author’s Black & White Photo of Everett Transit Sign for Stop #5245

Last Saturday the 13th I was at Paine Field with friends to watch Flying Heritage Collection (Paul G. Allen’s (mostly) flying collection of historic warbirds such as the F6F-5 Hellcat and B-25J Mitchell) conclude their Fly Days (my Flickr album of the events – with more pictures to upload) and then visit the Museum of Flight Restoration Center to the north.  While working my way back to the main Everett thoroughfare Evergreen Way for some dinner plus a Community Transit Swift to connect to Amtrak Cascades, I walked .2 of a mile away from Paine Field into a wooded lot and into an industrial area.  Finding it a bit odd to place a transit stop on 100th Street over 1,000 feet away from a major tourist attraction, I decided to make some time to write while my memory was fresh.

Now as I have not written about Paine Field’s transit issues for a while, please enjoy the map below to help orient yourself around:

Paine Field Transit Map – Version 0.1

STB Paine Field Transit Map – V 0.1

I had to carpool from Everett Station down to Flying Heritage Collection and then over to the Museum of Flight Restoration Center.  No complaints but if an aviation geek who cannot or won’t drive doesn’t have gracious friends… or the money for cabs – yeoch!

But the main reason why I decided to write a request for Everett Transit to reconsider its transit network and put bus service preferably at 100th Street Southwest & 29th Avenue West is so that we can get more users of transit in general.  I also overheard while waiting in the Museum of Flight Restoration Center waiting to cross the busy intersection to my bus a very low number for attendance for the day to the Museum of Flight Restoration Center and yet… there was quite the line for pilot autographs at Flying Heritage Collection much greater than that number.

Is this me as an aviation buff hoping to inspire improved networking to grow the economic ecosystem of these four complimentary Paine Field museums all with strong leaders?  You betcha.

Also would I argue the failure of imagination and foresight by Everett Transit to see that maybe a family wanting to go out to Paine Field’s museums via bus really wouldn’t find the below all that inviting to take the kids along – or in my case tote around $800 worth of camera gear if I got robbed:

Everett Transit Stop #5245 Looking Back at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center

Everett Transit Stop #5245 Looking Back at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center

With over 3,000 visitors a year to this wonderful facility and now quoting The Museum of Flight, “a big garage packed full of airplanes in all states of restoration and looming over it all is the nose of a de Havilland DH.106 4C Comet poking through the specially modified hanger doors”; I would argue the next Everett Transit route realignment needs to please consider Paine Field’s role in Everett tourism efforts.  Especially as Everett’s Mayor publicly wants long-term light rail for Paine Field and realizes Paine Field is vital to Everett’s economy!  Furthermore, the farebox recovery from nobody riding an Everett Transit bus equals the same as a fare-free and full Island Transit bus: Namely zero so perhaps if serving a tourist attraction is still unattractive to easily increase the number of potential riders by 3,000 annually to improve farebox recovery is still unappealing; then perhaps I can never explain business sense to anyone!

Noting that on-topic comments are welcome, comments that stray off-topic get one warning and spammy comments get deleted, you tell me please what you think.  Please.

North by Northwest 12: Island Transit Sued Again…

When it just can’t get any worse for Island Transit before the Washington State Auditor’s Office audit is released, Island Transit affairs of state get worse.  According to the Whidbey News-Times with my emphasis and abridgement:

Everett attorney Rodney Moody represents Latroleum Lawrence in a complaint for damages filed in Island County Superior Court on Aug. 29.

The lawsuit names Island Transit and Rose personally as defendants.

It is the second lawsuit filed against the beleaguered agency this year; financial difficulties forced transit officials to lay off employees and cut routes this summer.

. . .

The newest lawsuit states that Rose fired Lawrence, the only black person in the maintenance division, following a pre-termination hearing in April.

According to the complaint, Lawrence explained that, during the meeting with Rose and other representatives from Island Transit, the concerns about his performance were baseless.

The lawsuit states that Rose later testified at a Washington State Employment Security Department hearing that Lawrence raised his voice and became irate during the meeting.

Lawrence claims that he recorded the meeting on his iPhone and the recording proves that he spoke “in a calm and restrained matter.”

The lawsuit alleges that Rose fired Lawrence because of his race and age; he was replaced by someone younger who received a lower wage, according to the complaint.

. . .

He said Rose disseminated information about the meeting to the Washington State Employment Security Department. She claimed that Lawrence committed misconduct, he said.

The administrative judge found there was no misconduct and granted Lawrence unemployment benefits.

There you go.  I warned last week any further fiscal stress to Island Transit would bring the whole ship down.  That fiscal stress is most certainly incoming like a raging bull.


Editorial Comment: Pardon my ex-farmhand angry vernacular but this Beyond Stupid leadershit needs to be collectively gathered up in a wheelbarrow with pitchforks and put in a compost pile wrapped in log poles & fenceposts so the next generation can learn from these mistakes and take root in the compost to grow something better.  Letters to the editor in the defense of one individual are thoughtful (recent example) but still?  An administrative judge has came to the defense of a manager of maintainers who if he didn’t do his job would get passengers like me hurt and for his due diligence I salute Mr. Lawrence here, financial statements were not checked for their veracity resulting in no reserves, internet comments for weeks on Whidbey Newsgroup webpages were seeking answers about the termination of this very individual, an anonymous whistleblower letter has been sent to a State Senator who forwarded it to the State Auditor’s Office, there are legitimate fears Island Transit might go bankrupt, a State Auditor’s Office audit is due in the next 2-5 weeks and magically one Island Transit Boardmember is taking a two-month roadtrip out-of-state at the apex of this crisis?  Okay, where are the people of Island County in collectively demanding new leadership for Island Transit with their petition?


One last thing on a personal level: If the next link round-up wasn’t until Thursday I sincerely would let my editors handle this.  I wish there was some good news to write about as having to report on the implosion of Island Transit makes Joe deeply depressed, dismayed and most of all disgusted to the point of procrastination.

North by Northwest 11: ETA by Everett Transit

I used the ETA system today
Photo of New Everett Transit Sign by Author

As some may have noticed, Everett Transit has now instituted the ETA hotline.  You can either dial 1-425-257-7777, then hit 1 to enter your stop number or you can dial 1-425-312-6329 then type in your Everett Transit # or text the Everett Transit Bus Stop # to 1-425-312-6329 to get real-time arrivals of your next Everett Transit bus.

Having just last Friday used the service, it’s much appreciated when one doesn’t have WiFi or a cell data plan (if you do, get the OneBusAway app – just do it) to know when to expect your bus.  Especially when the bus is on an hourly schedule and you’re a half-hour early having gotten off of the Community Transit SWIFT.  I sincerely wish other transit networks – like Skagit Transit, Island Transit (assuming I.T. survives the coldest political winter in its history) and Community Transit would license the ETA technology.

Very nicely done Everett Transit!

North by Northwest 10: Zero Accountability to the Community by Island Transit?

Yes, Island Transit has seatbelts!
Island Transit Bus Seat Photo by Author

Seems as if KING 5 has finally joined the Accountability Convoy heading to Coupeville.  We sure welcome KING 5 participation in seeking the truth from Island Transit.  One thing caught my eye in their half-complete report – namely nobody from Island Transit would go on-camera to explain the Island Transit financial mess nor has Island Transit posted to its website statements to its Board about these events.

Already Bob Pishue of the Washington Policy Center has tweeted his policy paper to KING 5Perhaps with their silence, Island Transit 100% agrees with Mr. Pishue that ultimately, “Instead of trying to secure more money from state taxpayers, Island Transit officials should better manage public tax dollars to rebuild the public trust and restore reliable and efficient bus service.”

Recently I asked Martha Rose, Executive Director of Island Transit the following questions – which I will post here.  When I get a response, I will copy-paste the replies:

BTW I listened to the audio from Friday’s meeting last night and put it online a moment ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OjjagGkHzE&feature=youtu.be.  The following questions arise from my listening to the audio:

  • What would have happened if Island Transit not gotten a loan for its operating budget shortfall?  More cuts?  Insolvency/bankruptcy?
  • What exactly are these state operating grants to help transit agencies with shortfalls?
  • Who provides these grants?
  • Who assured Island Transit officials the grants would be likely dispersed to Island Transit?
  • When will the grants arrive, if provided?
  • What if the grants do not arrive and the soft money disappears?  Any backup plans such as renegotiating the loan terms?
  • Why are Island Transit statements given to Board Members about the fiscal crisis/morass not on the Public Information tab of the Island Transit website yet?

That e-mail to her and Island County Commissioner & Island Transit Boardmember Helen Price-Johnson was sent Tuesday at 12:40 PM/1240 Hours.  I am still writing up the notes of the Island Transit meeting, and have other work.

Before calling for action, I would hope if Island Transit cannot answer these questions a through review by the Washington State Auditor’s Office can answer these questions.  State Auditor Troy Kelley has promised State Senator Barbara Bailey – with my hyperlinks:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about Island Transit. I appreciated reading the attached news article and letter containing serious allegations relating to Island Transit. Although we had been in contact with the Transit’s Executive Director and seen the news article, we had not received the letter until you forwarded it to us. Additionally, we are evaluating the questions posed in the letter sent by the elected delegation for the 10th Legislative District.
Based on our communications with the Executive Director, we are scheduled to start an audit at Island Transit on August 11, 2014. Our financial and single audit will review the Transit’s fiscal year ending December 31, 2013 financial statements and federal compliance. After examining the documents you provided along with the District’s activities, we will also conduct an accountability audit to evaluate their internal controls that ensure compliance for the safeguarding, and use of, public resources.
As part of our audit work, we will evaluate the questions you have identified in your letters. Upon the completion of our audit work, we will be in contact with you to discuss our conclusions.

Without alleging anything but to be proactive one would hope since state legislators are exempt from the Public Records Act, the State Auditor’s Office will make full and immediate disclosure of their audit results – not just findings but also any management letter(s) and verbal recommendations.  Because it sure appears Island Transit HQ doesn’t feel accountable to the community… or to even its rank and file.

Your relevant comments and observations are always welcome.  Spammy comments will be deleted without warning.

North by Northwest 09: A Slight Update…

Black & White of an Island Transit 411C
Island Transit 411C Photo by Author

Figured some may wonder why I haven’t filed anything since Saturday.  My apologies, have been truly busy writing up notes from the audio from Friday’s Island Transit Board Meeting and with other non-transit responsibilities.  Also am grateful I got one of my posts (North by Northwest 08) promoted to the main blog – and sincerely appreciate & invite all non-spammy (aka non-49er) comments there.

That said, some updates…

  • Special thanks to Tawnya Smith, Legislative Assistant to Representative David Hayes and Mary “Marummy” Lane Strow of the House Republicans Comm Shop for getting my sticky hands on a 1 August 2014 10th Legislative District Letter with four questions for the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) to mull over.  Most important parts:

    “The article states that Island Transit had $6.2 million in reserves in 2010 with $4 million dedicated to the matching funds for the facility. That leaves $2.2 million in reserves. The article continues by stating that Savary spent $1.2 million of the reserve over the next two years. That should have left a balance of $1.0 million in reserves. Now they need loans totaling another $2.3 million to cover the matching money and operating expenses. This accounts for $3.3 million dollars that is in question, is there a detailed accounting of these expenditures?”
    “It appears to us that Island Transit started drawing down their reserves in 2010. Can you look back at the previous audits and see if the auditor was given correct information to provide an accurate audit report?”

  • Thanks to Tawyna Smith also for State Auditor Troy Kelley’s response letter and the only important part was the below with my emphasis:

    “Based on our communications with the Executive Director, we are scheduled to start an audit at Island Transit on August 11 , 2014. Our financial and single audit will review the Transit’s fiscal year ending December 31, 2013 financial statements and federal compliance. After examining the documents you provided along with the District’s activities, we will also conduct an accountability audit to evaluate their internal controls that ensure compliance for the safeguarding, and use of, public resources.

  • I will be riding ze Sounder North on Friday afternoon in part to conduct interviews from regular users for a future investigative piece.  So if you happen to see this avgeek get on at the Mukilteo station at 5:47 or 6:17, flag me down please and I’ll interview you on how you feel about the service.
  • Again, I have the audio from Friday’s Island Transit Board meeting on YouTube.  Listening and making notes in the evening while I edit photos… tentatively a go for a Sunday Special.  Once done with that, we’ll see what’s next.
  • Finally anybody besides me interested in a piece about transit photography?

With that, please keep comments to the above items.  I’ll reply to almost any comment… as I believe news is a conversation.

Island Transit Budget Is 25.7% Grant Dependent In 2015

Island Transit Big Bus Somewhere on Whidbey Island
Island Transit Photo by author

Although not in receipt of the audio yet from the August 22nd Island Transit Board Meeting, initial reports and a review of Island Transit’s 6-year Transit Development Plan (TDP) indicate Island Transit has a dangerous dependency on grants and a debt problem.  A review of the TDP indicates for 2015 alone budgeting for $3,174,612 in state & federal grants out of budgeted revenue of $12,350,648 – for a whopping 25.7% grant dependency.

This is also an agency with $739,149 in budgeted 2015 debt service costs.  So if, say, the State of Washington doesn’t grant the projected $600,000 or the Federal Government decides not to grant the projected $685,000… or if the $1,889,612 in “transit allocation grants” are below budget… or if the interest goes up on the debt for a multitude of reasons… then transit service is going to be in trouble.

Continue reading “Island Transit Budget Is 25.7% Grant Dependent In 2015”

North by Northwest 07: Community Transit & Rebounding Into Paine Field…

Paine Field Transit Map – Version 0.1


Primitive STB Paine Field Transit Map – V 0.1

Readers, sorry if you’re getting North by Northwested a bit much but… we’ve had an Island Transit fiscal crisis about to explode again, a need to remember there’s more to Northwest Washington Transit issues than my aviation tourism advocacy, and the news is flowing thick & fast.  That said, as promised in my intro post on Paine Transit service that I’d make a special post, I finally was able to make contact with Sam Brodland, Community Transit, Supervisor of Service Planning & Scheduling in the middle of his plans for a September Service Change to start climbing out of the Great Recession – which I appreciate.  In fact, Mr. Brodland said I was “timely” several times in our conversation.

As other Seattle Transit Blog reports have mentioned (our editor Martin H. Duke’s report, Brent White’s warning about Community Transit’s hole , and a 2010 report of Community Transit service cuts)  Community Transit got hit hard by the Great Recession.  Sunday service and holiday services were wiped out.  Also according to a Community Transit press release, “In 2010 and 2012, Community Transit cut 37 percent of its bus service and laid off 200 employees as a response to the recession’s impacts on sales tax revenue, the agency’s primary source of funding.”

As such, it’s realized Community Transit is undeserving Paine Field.  We discussed two of the locations most under served – namely The Future of Flight which is part-museum, part-store, part-HQ for Boeing Tours, part-observatory, and part-events center.   According to a PDF factsheet, Future of Flight “draws approximately 200,000 visitors per year and generates an additional $3.5 million annually of tourism spending in Snohomish County.”  There is the possibility at some point of a route adjustment to bring current Mukilteo Community Transit routes out to the Future of Flight.

Then there’s the difficult location of Flying Heritage Collection stranded at 3407 109th Street SW Everett.  That one’s going to require some serious public desire.  Currently, to reach Flying Heritage Collection requires significant hiking through industrial areas at the moment to reach from current transit services (e.g. 1.5 mile hike from the nearest Swift Stop) – not what I’d consider safe for somebody packing $500 or more in camera gear like me.  Plus such a hike would leave one a bit winded arriving at Flying Heritage Collection to walk around the exhibits.

So how do we voice that public desire folks?  Mr. Broadland recommended if we who support transit for Paine Field museums wanted to have our voices heard make sure to send an e-mail to riders-AT-commtrans-DOT-org and testify at upcoming Community Transit Board Meetings.  Those are at 09/04/14 3pm and 10/02/14 3pm at 7100 Hardeson Road.

Ultimately, to be successful: My efforts are going to need to become our efforts.  Stay tuned!

North by Northwest 06: Island Transit Update

Island Transit 411W @ Rest at Mt. Vernon Transfer Station
Island Transit bus photo by author

A little Island Transit update…

First tomorrow at 0900 hours at the Island Transit Operations & Administration Building, 19758 SR 20, Coupeville will be a monthly Island Transit Board Meeting.  According to the meeting agenda, there will be public comment specifically on the Transit Development Plan and then general public comment on other items.  I have placed a request for the meeting audio from Island Transit before the close of business tomorrow – and have friends who might get some video as I have a bum right ankle to heal.

First and a half, I have read Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose’s letter to Island Transit Board Members.  In Exec Director Martha Rose’s letter, she references the fact Paratransit will be stressed in South Whidbey and Island Transit “will be applying for a Consolidated Operating Grant so that we can get back to health financially. The applications are due into WSDOT by mid-November of this year. Awarded funds will be available effective July 1st of 2015.”    I’m sure the comments below on that application will be interesting… Mrs. Rose also said she expected a large crowd.  Island Transit Boardmember Jim Campbell also publicly wanted to have former Island Transit financial advisor Barbara Savory speak to the Island Transit Board.  Again, I’m truly sorry I cannot attend as I will be writing Saturday evening an editorial for Sunday morning on this Island Transit mess.

Second, in the past two weeks, several disturbing pieces of intelligence have came to my attention.  Been holding back not wanting to fixate on Island Transit.

  • On July 31st, State Senators Barbara Bailey and Curtis King wrote the State Auditor’s Office to give tasking to the upcoming audit.  They reference an anonymous whistleblower letter full of rumor and innuendo plus a South Whidbey Record news report.  State Senator Bailey then goes on to say in a press release, “This is indicative of larger issues in our transportation system, where there is a complete lack of transparency and accountability. That is why I have asked the state auditor to perform an audit as soon as possible. In recent years, the state has provided over $9 million to Island Transit and the public must be assured that those funds are being used responsibly.”  In other words: Island Transit’s problems could be used to smear public transit systems in general.
  • On August 12th, the Stanwood-Camano News reported, “Martha Rose, executive director of Island Transit, said she “absolutely will not resign,” despite allegations of mismanagement and calls that she step down.”  Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said to the reporter seeking a statement on Island Transit like her two colleagues gave back on 4 August, “We’re hearing about a culture that does not allow scrutiny. I’m disappointed and disillusioned by the apparent lack of transparency.  It matters to a lot of people, and no personality is more important than that system.”  To tip my hand a bit about the aforementioned editorial… I agree with Island County Commish Helen Price-Johnson: “This is the public’s transit system … The public deserves a sustainable and dependable level of service and to have the credibility of Island Transit restored.”
  • On August 19th, the Stanwood-Camano News reported on the ongoing State Auditor’s Office audit of Island Transit seeking to “find where $3 million of Island Transit’s reserves went and, more importantly, why no one allegedly knew the money was disappearing.”  State Auditor Troy Kelley is in receipt of multiple state legislator letters on this audit and wrote back he’d look into questions about, “whether funds were illegally or improperly used; whether there was adequate oversight from Rose and the board; whether aspects of the new facility are excessive in the context of and other comparable facilities; whether travel funds were used improperly; whether the agency is failing to maintain and update its fleet.”  Finally another tip of the editorialist hand in that I concur with Island County Commish Jill Johnson,  “If you’re cutting routes because you can’t cover the operating expenses, and now you’re in debt on top of that, how are you going to be able to afford it in a year?” (When Seattle Transit Blog gets a copy of all the letters, will post here.)

North by Northwest 05: The Price of Apathy, Skagit Edition

Sunset at the Chuckanut Park and Ride..
Chuckanut Park & Ride – Photo by AvgeekJoe

[Joe 2300 Hours note: Skagit Transit hyperlinks corrected.]

Recently Bruce Nourish wrote a fine piece on Spokane’s transit woes.  Woes perpetuated by the moneyed interests of that fine city based on prejudicial myths of transit users.

I see some similarities in my Skagit County – we too have a ruling elite to the point one family is about to marry massive economic power with sizable political power, we too have all the mainstream news owned by another family with declining resources for muckraking government, and we used to have a transit hub in the downtown of Burlington at the Cascade Mall which was good for commerce.  Now we have courtesy of the Washington Department of Transportation a Park & Ride at the north of Burlington for a transit hub linking Skagit Transit Routes 300 between Sedro-Woolley & east Burlington, 80X to Bellingham, 90X to Everett and 208 to Burlington & Mount Vernon shopping. See an aerial view below:

View post on imgur.com

Granted, the Park & Ride is convenient to drop folks off, to pick up buses and next to Interstate 5 with 369 parking slots.  But the previous hub was the Cascade Mall with vast amounts of parking plus lighting & security cameras that did not cost Washington State taxpayers $11,852,000.

Now… there is no restroom with all the sanitary issues that entails, there are few places to shop within a walking distance, and there is no commons area that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer – all of which the Cascade Mall provided the public.  There is only now apathy, a lit bus shelter, video cameras, and 369 parking slots.  There is only each Skagit Transit user’s silence to blame – don’t let this happen to you.

To invigorate any effort to be proactive perhaps consider the reply to my recent comments into the Skagit Transit 6-year Plan asking for a restroom and a temperature-controlled commons area: “There are no plans to add facilities to existing park and rides and no change will be made to the 6-year plan to address restroom facilities. … Bathroom facilities at un-staffed park and rides are commonly vandalized and can even become a safety and security risk. The high rate of vandalism and associated cost makes the provision of restroom facilities at the park and rides prohibitively expensive.”  I spoke up too late, not while this facility was in the public planning stages where proposing a public restroom and the recruiting a Starbucks franchise to the Chuckanut Park & Ride would have been so immensely helpful.  The nearest espresso stand is instead across a very busy boulevard with no public restroom or place to stay warm.

Put bluntly as so many transit users – including yours truly – were apathetic during the planning process for this $11.8 million facility; transit planning travesties like this occur.  For too long, moneyed interests and entrenched bureaucrats in cushy jobs have taken advantage of transit users’ apathetic unwillingness to speak up and be treated like customers.  Only when we transit users band together and reply as proud customers of transit will we make things right as in business: the customer is almost always right.

North by Northwest 04: Transit at Paine Field

2014-07-09 Paine Field Panorama
2014-07-09 Paine Field Panorama by Joe “AvgeekJoe” Konzlar

[Note: Unlike most Page 2 posts, this is slightly edited for clarity.]

Fellow commenters on Seattle Transit Blog know my passion for more mass transit services to and from Paine Field.  I’ve even written a letter to the Everett Herald editor sharing my aspirations for a route serving – counterclockwise from the northwest corner – the Future of Flight, Historic Flight Foundation, Flying Heritage Collection and the Museum of Flight Restoration Center.

Now what and where are these marquee facilities?  See a Paine Field map also showing a few others not open to the public. The Future of Flight is part-museum, part-HQ for Boeing Tours, part-observatory and part-events center.   According to a PDF factsheet, it “draws approximately 200,000 visitors per year and generates an additional $3.5 million annually of tourism spending in Snohomish County.” Historic Flight Foundation is a flying museum at the end of Bernie Webber Drive that preserves aviation history from 1927 to 1957 with many historic aircraft. The Flying Heritage Collection is Paul G. Allen’s (mostly) flying collection of historic warbirds that range from WWI to a modern Mig-29.  There are also other artifacts like several ground vehicles, cutaway engines and disarmed rockets. Finally, the Museum of Flight Restoration Center restores aircraft for static display and is open to self-guided tours much of the year.

Everett Transit Route 12 serves the Future of Flight museum.*  It required a nice 0.8 mile hike – partially through a Boeing parking lot and partially on a nice trail.  The problem is that in inclement weather very few wish to hike almost a mile to visit the Future of Flight.  Please see pictures below from my trip on the 12:

Looking at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center...
Museum of Flight Restoration Center through the Everett Transit Route 12 window(1)

Everett Transit Route 12 Pulls Away...
Getting off Everett Transit Route 12 in a big Boeing parking lot.

A View of Paine Field from my hike to Future of Flight
A view from my 0.8 mile hike from the nearest Everett Transit Route 12 bus stop to the Future of Flight

I asked local transit agencies what they could do about this situation. Community Transit couldn’t respond by press time except to refer me to Everett Transit. An Everett Transit spokesperson told me Everett Transit will take comment in late winter or early spring on route planning.  I’m going to start a petition for extending Everett Transit Route 12 that last 0.8 mile to get a bus stop at the Future of Flight Monday through Saturday on a trial basis with performance benchmarks.

There is is a much appreciated Community Transit bus stop at the foot of Bernie Webber Drive, the road that goes up to Historic Flight Foundation that serves several routes that link up with Swift (Bus Rapid Transit) to the south and both Sounder North and Washington State Ferries to the north. The Everett Herald reported a Community Transit Park & Ride is in the works for that location, which is sensible considering Historic Flight Foundation uses the proposed grassy area for special event parking anyway.

Now if only Flying Heritage Collection would get some transit service…  Recently Flying Heritage Collection had a special event called Skyfair on July 26th and provided a bus shuttle to and from a nearby park & ride which is nice for those whom needed parking.  Problem is there was no adjoining service from either Everett Transit or Community Transit to supplement and amplify those services – requiring me to hail a cab from Everett to attend.  With Flying Heritage Collection having Fly Days on many June, July, August and September Saturdays with hundreds of attendees; it’s illogical to deny Flying Heritage Collection direct Saturday transit services.  Heck, I’d pay a few bucks for a shuttle to/from a Swift (Bus Rapid Transit) stop.

Ultimately, I argue that the international aviation geek community deserves some love and mutual cooperation from both Everett Transit & Community Transit.  In a perfect world where Paine Field did not fall between the Community Transit & Everett Transit service areas, having a Paine Field circular that would link to Swift (Bus Rapid Transit) would make economic sense because according to Paine Field’s official website, “Paine Field and its tenants have a $19.8 billion economic impact on the region and the state. Additionally, the Airport and the businesses utilizing the airfield provide $79 million in tax revenue to the local and state governments”.  I argue that from $79 million in tax revenue we could get some decent transit services to all of Paine Field’s tenants.

* You can also get out to the Museum of Flight Restoration Center by using Everett Transit Route 12 and disembarking at the 100TH ST SW & AIRPORT RD stop for a 0.23 mile walk.  To walk from the Museum of Flight Restoration Center to Flying Heritage Collection is a 1.5 mile, 30 minute hike through an industrial area.  Not exactly tourist friendly by almost any stretch of the imagination…

North by Northwest 03: What It’s Like to Ride Amtrak Cascades…

Here Comes the Amtrak

As a vacationer who uses Amtrak Cascades whenever possible to get out of Skagit to and from aviation geek (avgeek) events as able, figured I’d write you about the Amtrak Cascades experience plus share some of my photos as appropriate.  Now getting a ticket is rather easy – just go online and order them or either printout at home or pick up at a train station kiosk.  Or use a kiosk at a train station to order and printout – and hope there’s a vacancy.  Just like getting on an airplane… without the TSA.  Yes, this maze:

Relatively painless Bellingham International Airport Security...

Once you board, you’ll be assigned a seat.  Rarely by choice unlike an airline, but you are not cramped looking out a tiny window like a Q400’s for instance:

Seat 16A of the Alaska Airlines Q400

You may be – and are – paying for speed & altitude when using Alaska Airlines which has its own benefits such as a sunrise view that cannot be beat.  But on Amtrak Cascades once seated, you get to relax, sit back and either read, work or read or play on an electronic device, or if the WiFi works cruise the Internets while on the rail.  No safety briefing to suffer through or cramped lavatory to try to use.  Just sit back and relax – and hope no noisy baby is stuffed into business class.  Especially since whomever sold Amtrak Cascades the leather seats pictured below ought to advertise where to pick one of them up for Christmas!

Get a free ticket to THIS seat :-)

Say you get thirsty or hungry, you can walk over to the Bistro Car and pick something up – no need to find a fast food joint along the road or wait for a flight attendant’s cart as there’s a Dining Car.  Business Class customers get a $3 coupon against their purchases.  You can get a burger and a soda pop like this:

A July 4th Dinner on the Amtrak Cascades...

Every passenger car also has rather nice views.  Mostly either of farms or small towns along the way.  Good way to enjoy the view through rather big windows.

Sunset on South Mount Vernon...

There’s also seating for groups of four to sit together and either play together or chat (preferably) quietly.  A great way for a family to leave the driving to others… and have quality family time.

Amtrak Cascades Business Class Interior

A Peek Into the Dining Car...

Not to mention save on the costs of operating an automobile… which with the cost of gas nearing $4 as the Seattle average plus the costs of maintaining & operating a car are no small matters to consider.  Perhaps try the Skagit Transit trip calculator to see how much you’d save annually – especially if you can chuck the car during the week and come vacation time too!

That said, when you get off you just wait for the conductor to help you disembark and if need be grab luggage and/or a bicycle from the luggage car.

My Female Conductor's Waiting for Us to Pull In...

Offloading a Bicycle from Amtrak Cascades at Mt. Vernon...

Off you go!  Hope to see you on Amtrak Cascades:

Amtrak's Cute Lady Conductor at the Mt. Vernon Station...

Since North by Northwest ZERO THREE Is Going to be a Day Late

See, North by Northwest (NbyN) Zero Five on Island Transit is currently being built and production resources for Zero Five are being taken from NbyN Zero Three on Amtrak Cascades being such a wonderful service.  But once you see & hear Zero Five with all the intel products, you’ll understand why.

What’s Zero Four you might ask – well that’ll be all about Paine Field.  Waiting on an e-mail sent to riders-AT-commtrans.org yesterday with the subject line, “Question Re: Route Planning Input”.  Hopefully by posting here I’ll get Community Transit to reply to my e-mail in a timely manner (i.e. less than 24 hours Monday thru Friday).

So I shall make this a request line.  What would you me to tell you about – like perhaps how useful the Seafair shuttle was or how Skagit Transit is getting along or a 1,000 word rant on Washington State Ferries?  You tell me.  This Island Transit fiasco cannot be my only focus – it’d be too depressing.

Requests Please.

North by Northwest 02: Is Island Transit Still Misleading Folks?

Good question.

The Stanwood-Camano News reported 5 days ago they were not told during the loss of the Camano-to-Everett Connector about the depth of Island Transit’s fiscal problems, “All this was developing even as Rose and the board were talking about cutting the Everett Connector, but no one mentioned it in interviews.”  The same allegation has been made by the Whidbey Newsgroup.  If I may quote their syndicated newsstory:

A reporter contacted Rose and a couple of IT’s board members about budget problems a month ago, but none of them mentioned the impending layoffs, widespread route cuts or that the finance director was terminated because of the cash flow problems.

Rose told the reporter that the “county connector” in Skagit County was being modified and Everett connector canceled due to cuts in state transportation funding. She now says she didn’t realize at that time that deep cuts would be necessary to right the ship.

These cuts were promised to only last a year in many public statements.  However, Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell who serves on the Island Transit board made a statement at the 6 August Oak Harbor City Council meeting that should trouble many of us.  About 1:52 into a YouTube clipping are the assertions the rescue plan has not been presented to the Island Transit Board as a board and will require longer to as Martha Rose would say, “come out of the clouds in about a year.”  Therefore exists the serious, genuine question does misinformation from Island Transit continue – which makes me individually take the editorial position we just might find more fiscal booby traps and possibly similarities to Enron’s downfall.  Below is my attempt to embed the video:

There also has been the admission that 1:27 into the YouTube clip of what the open government community calls ‘serial meetings’ about this plan.  Having each board member meet with the Executive Director to talk about a plan very much in the public interest behind closed doors is at the least impugnable.  At the most, against the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), RCW 42.30.  Hopefully the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) will investigate.  After I hit publish and address any grammatical errors here, will fire off a head’s up to my SAO contact.

Finally mark the date, time and location: Friday, August 22, 2014, at 9:00 AM at the Island Transit Operations & Administration Building, 19758 SR 20, Coupeville, WA is the next Island Transit Board Meeting coupled to – and please swallow before you read this – “A Public Hearing to receive input on Island Transit’s Six-Year Transit Development Plan. … The regularly scheduled Monthly Business Meeting will be held following the conclusion of the Public Hearing”.  Six-Year Transit Development Plan now?  Seriously, when we do not know if Island Transit faces the threat of extinction Island Transit’s going to plan 6 years ahead?

Being I’d promised 500 words or less, stopping here.  Sincerely welcome and appreciate your comments!  I will do my best to reply within 12 hours or less, thank you!

North by Northwest Post 01: Intro & Island Transit Update

Hi there!

I’ve figured it’s time for Northwest Washington State to have a seat at the table.  You may know me as “AvgeekJoe from Skagit County ” from the comment threads and as a regular contributor to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr feed as well.

You may also know I lean somewhat right in my beliefs.  You can rest assured I may be friends with Washington Policy Center staffers, but I’m not here to spew talking points or troll.  I do believe however that political biases are best served out in the open.

One of those biases is for a strong, sustainable transit system allowing people to live where they need to live.  We in Northwest Washington State currently enjoy a County Connector System between Snohomish, Skagit, Island and Whatcom Counties.  I say currently as that depends on start-up grants and on if Island Transit can survive the recent dire straights Island Transit HQ has put a legendary transit agency into.

The Whidbey Examiner has reported in part on the Island Transit fiscal crisis:

Martha Rose, director of Island Transit, said she fired Financial Manager Barbara Savary in May after she disclosed that the agency didn’t have the money to pay $135,000 in bills.

Rose said she was dumbfounded to discover that Savary hadn’t been running the monthly cash flow analysis for years. She said the simple, internal report is not only a vital part of the job, but would have alerted the agency to cash flow concerns years ago.

Island Transit is an independent agency overseen by a board of directors. It offers fare-free transit and is funded by a nine-tenths of 1 percent sales tax and grants. The operating budget for this year is $12.2 million.

Unbeknownst to her, Rose said, Savary was dipping into investments as expenses outpaced revenues for years on end. Rose said she found unpaid bills in Savary’s desk after she was gone.

YouTube video – clearly set to the soundtrack of the James Bond movie Skyfall – has been posted of the Island County Commissioners’ Monday meeting where further revelations came forward.  On that YouTube video are statements pledging new accountability, a look into the fiscal sustainability of Island Transit and finally in the last 60 seconds “financial statements” made to the board were clearly “incorrect”.

Now I’d rather write about the great transit network we have here, complete with dang “selfies” of me using transit to see the great aviation community we have in Northwest Washington State.  But I believe you should know what’s going down up here as it’s going to color debates & dialogue on transit in this state.  Already the Washington Policy Center has written up a note,  noting, “More tax money from the state is not the solution to fix the financial mess at Island Transit. Better budget management and financial practices could have reduced the pain felt by communities across Island County. … Island Transit officials should better manage public tax dollars to rebuild the public trust and restore reliable and efficient bus service.”

Ultimately I hope all of us in the transit community heed these thoughts from Whidbey Newsgroup publisher Keven R. Graves that, “citizens need to reclaim ownership of their taxpayer-funded agencies, attend meetings, ask hard questions and push for tougher open records laws that don’t allow agencies to drag their heels and play games.  Take back your voice and demand greater accountability of government employees before things start going wrong.”  I would add when there are opportunities for transit advocates to raise your voice… please use up that First Amendment to the US Constitution of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and petition the government for a redress of grievances – key freedoms our troops and First Responders fight for every day.