Transit expert: Port Authority needs a professional, not a politician

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The most troubling comment in the aftermath of Port Authority CEO Steve Bland's firing last week came from the Allegheny County transit agency board's new chairman.

Attorney Jeff Letwin, a board member since 2005, said Mr. Bland failed to secure a reliable, dedicated source of state funding for the Port Authority and that the agency needs "someone who's going to be better positioned at all levels, particularly Harrisburg, to get that dedicated funding."

There's no disputing that the authority, and other transit agencies in Pennsylvania, need and deserve more money and predictability in funding from the state. It has been a Holy Grail for years. But blame for failing to attain it should not be placed at the feet of the CEO.

What Mr. Letwin described is a political power broker.

The chief executive officer should have experience in the field of transit and the ability to run a complex organization, including personnel management skills, financial acumen and connections in the industry sufficient to ensure that Port Authority leadership is attuned to trends and improvements being made at other transit systems. In other words, a transit expert.

The CEO also should be able to provide detailed information that supports the agency's budget requests, on the county, state and federal levels. But being the agency's public spokesman is not the same thing as being the agency's chief lobbyist.

The county has lobbyists who work with Harrisburg lawmakers. It has a delegation of state representatives and senators who, so far, haven't been able to wrangle a permanent remedy out of the state Capitol.

And, in Rich Fitzgerald, it has an elected county executive who has said -- in a way that could prove troublesome -- that he wants more day-to-day control over Port Authority operations. Maybe after he hires a new professional for that task, he can turn his attention to using his political skills to get sufficient funds for the transit system. That shouldn't be a job for the Port Authority's CEO.

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