Bloomington Transit’s five-member board voted unanimously Tuesday night, on its pick for the next general manager of the city’s public bus system: John Connell.
He is now operations manager for the public bus system in Lafayette and West Lafayette, another Indiana college town. The bus system there is called the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, and operates as CityBus.
BT’s general manager position would have become vacant at the end of September when current general manager Lew May’s contract runs out.
May had originally intended to retire last year after more than two decades of service. He agreed to stay on, to shepherd the bus system through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board members indicated some interest in negotiating some overlap for May and Connell when the details of the contract are worked out, between now and the board’s August meeting. At that meeting, the board will vote on a contract.
The board’s Tuesday agenda was packed with significant items like a pilot project to swap in Uber and Lyft service for one public bus route, a new regular route to serve IU Health’s new hospital site, the first draft of the 2022 budget, and the ongoing challenge of hiring bus drivers. BT is currently short 12 drivers, and a job fair in June yielded no new applicants.
The board’s vote on their general manger choice was moved to the start of the agenda.
But Connell stayed through the end of the in-person meeting and offered comments when asked for his perspective on issues like the challenge of hiring bus drivers. He indicated it’s useful to draw a distinction between the job and the profession of bus driver.
Connell told the board at the end of their meeting, “I appreciate the vote of confidence.” He added, “I assure you I’m going to give you 100 percent effort and work to meet the goals that we establish together and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Immediately after the board’s vote, May said, “Before I jump into the regular agenda, just let me say thank you to the board and the evaluation committee, to the staff, to everyone for your support and your confidence in RATP Dev.”
RATP Dev is the management company through which May provides his services to Bloomington Transit. It’s the same company that offered John Connell to the BT board as a candidate for the job. Like May, Connell will be under contract with RATP Dev, which will contract directly with BT.
The choice of a person for the job translated to a choice of management services company. The other company-candidate pair considered by the BT board was First Transit, who proposed Korbin Figg as a candidate. Figg is currently chief operating officer of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, in Illinois.
Both Figg and Connell are graduates of Indiana University.
What gave Connell the nod was more experience. He has 31 years of experience in transit in the state of Indiana.
BT board member James McClary said it was a close call between the two and that he’d changed his mind several times during the process, which included input from staff, after a meet-and-greet with both candidates.
For board member Kent McDaniel, it was not as tough a choice. “I was convinced from the very beginning that the RATP Dev manager had more experience,” he said. McDaniel added, “John Connell’s got 31 years of transit experience here in Indiana, including being a general manager.”
Board member Marilyn Hartman said, “I felt like either one of these candidates would have served the board.” She added, “I really feel that a candidate that has a little more youth can bring more energy and commitment and kind of new ideas. And that was what weighed very positively.”
A three-person evaluation committee, consisting of Hartman, McClary and BT’s controller, Christa Browning, made their recommendation of Connell (RATP Dev) to the full board.
Hartman concluded her remarks by saying that the three-person evaluation committee reached a consensus, that what BT needs now is more experience in the general manager position.
McDaniel addressed some remarks to Figg, who also attended the board’s meeting. “I think you’re a rising star in the sense that you’ve got a good start and you have a good future.”
May gave some concluding remarks to the board, even though he’s got two more board meeting’s worth of work to do: “It’s been a great ride here at Bloomington Transit for almost 23 years. We’ve done together a lot of wonderful work in the community. And I’m looking forward to seeing what John will be doing in the next few years.”