New Summit Stage director Jim Andrew has ties to company up for privatization contract
The newly hired director of the Summit Stage spent more than 10 years working for the company in talks with Summit County government to take over operating the tax-funded bus system.
Jim Andrew, a former private industry transit consultant, confirmed Monday he was employed by First Transit Services from 1989 to 1993 and again from 2001 to 2009, but said he has no current ties to the company up for the contract and brings no bias in its favor to ongoing conversations around outsourcing.
“I have worked with them, but I don’t have any particular allegiance,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any kind of conflict. I’m going to be objective.”
Though the final decision to hire Andrew fell to assistant county manager Thad Noll, the former consultant was the unanimous first choice of an eight-person selection panel made up of county employees and members of the Summit Stage transit board.
Noll said Andrew’s history with First Transit did figure into the final decision, as the panel thought he’d bring valuable insight to the process of analyzing prospective contracts for the Stage system management.
“He convinced all of us,” Noll said. “I feel pretty good that he’s going to bring some good ideas to the table.”
He is slated to take over as director in early July.
Most of the final contenders for the job had backgrounds with a handful of the country’s leading transit contracting companies, of which First Transit is one, Noll said.
County officials announced they were exploring privatizing the Summit Stage in March, as the Stage faced a $300,000 budget shortfall and severely depleted reserves.
They say potential cost savings and customer service will be among the top factors in the decision to privatize.
“We would like to think that if we did (privatize), it would help create a more sustainable system,” Noll told the Summit Daily earlier this year. “We cannot keep doing what we’re doing for the same amount of money.”
While no decisions have been made, county officials do plan to solicit bids from companies interested in taking a contract to operate the system.
Officials say the shift to a private operator would be virtually unnoticeable to riders and no jobs or even pay would be lost in the transition. All current Stage employees would be brought on to work under the private contractor.
The county would continue to oversee routes and high-level policy decisions, while turning over day-to-day management to the contractor.
Andrew said he’s not surprised his former employer is among the companies interested in the contract, noting that there are only a handful of companies across the country that specialize in transit system management.
He departed First Transit Services after being laid off in 1993 and accepted a severance package in 2009 when the recession hit, ending his second stint with the company.
He said he generally does favor privatization, but noted that his feelings about contracting out the management of the Summit Stage specifically would depend on the details of the deal.
“If it’s done right, it can work very well, but it doesn’t always work well,” Andrew said. “If it’s done strictly on basis of cost, if you’re simply trying to get it done cheaply, I think you’re asking for trouble.”
Drivers and a number of community members have adamantly opposed privatizing the local bus system and have formed a petition against the idea.
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