RTD directors, under fire for poor supervision of the huge agency, agreed Thursday to reach into the federal government's mass transit bureaucracy and hire an inspector general to help them avoid more trouble in running the buses and building the Metro Rail subway.
Sources said the board, meeting in closed session, decided to offer the job in coming days to Ernest Fuentes of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's San Francisco office. He has extensive ability trouble-shooting large federally financed projects, sources said. The majority of Metro Rail funds come from the federal government.
Ironically, the agency has been one of the biggest critics of Metro Rail, objecting strongly to its cost.
Sources said the directors set the salary of the new job at between $70,000 and $80,000 a year, with Fuentes being offered a contract of between two to three years.
Hiring an inspector general is part of a sweeping overhaul of the Southern California Rapid Transit District proposed by its general manager, John Dyer, after months of criticism of the district for allowing too much driver absenteeism, failing to control rising administrative costs and not doing enough to reduce drug use by drivers.
Under the plan, the inspector general would establish auditing standards, look for suspected improprieties and keep a close eye on the progress of Metro Rail.
Sources said the directors, allowed by the state open meeting act to meet in closed session to discuss personnel matters, decided that the inspector general portion of the Dyer plan should be implemented as soon as possible because of what the directors consider unfavorable stories in the press and their concern over monitoring of the Metro Rail project.
The inspector general will report to both Dyer and the board and will have a staff of his own. The expense is part of the $1.9 million Dyer said it will cost to implement his plan to improve district operations. He said he is hoping to finance the plan out of the district's current operating budget.
The action was the second taken in the day to deal with the district's problems.
The first one was aimed at image building. Dyer hired a consulting firm, Fleishman-Hillard, to try and improve the district's public relations. With the firm getting $24,500 for the five-month contract, its payment did not have to be approved by the board, which must vote on contracts higher than $25,000.
But two board members, President Jan Hall and Nikolas Patsaouras, said they approved of the hiring.
Hall said the district is trying to find out "how we can better communicate with the media" and how the public can best be told of the street closures and traffic jams that will accompany Metro Rail construction in downtown Los Angeles later this year.