The top executive of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission unexpectedly announced his resignation Friday, creating impending vacancies at the top of the two biggest regional transit agencies at a time of political turmoil.
Rick Richmond's announcement that he is leaving the $85,000-a-year job of commission executive director comes just weeks before the RTD's embattled General Manager John Dyer is scheduled to depart. Richmond said he will leave after February for a better career opportunity at the New Jersey Transit Corp., where he will head the construction division for the system's 365-mile commuter rail network.
Richmond, an easy-going and little-known counterpart to the intense, high-profile Dyer, has for seven years guided the rapid growth of a regional agency that annually controls hundreds of millions of transit dollars and is developing a huge light-rail system to link up with the RTD's Metro Rail subway.
Sources close to Richmond said they believe he has been frustrated and angered by the continual political buffeting the county transportation agencies have received. In particular, these officials said, Richmond was irritated with state legislation last year that would have created a new Los Angeles transportation super-agency, but specifically prohibit Richmond or Dyer from running it. Gov. George Deukmejian killed the plan with a veto.
"It was inevitable after the way the Legislature kicked him around," said commission member Christine Reed, a Richmond supporter.
Most of the recent public criticism has been targeted at the RTD and Dyer for a range of problems in the huge bus system, including drivers on drugs, questionable spending of district funds on management perquisites and a lavish lobbying apparatus. But some of the flack ricocheted Richmond's way. State Sen. Alan Robbins, a Van Nuys Democrat and co-author of last year's transit reorganization bill, said Friday Richmond had been "insensitive" to community concerns in a long-running battle over placement of a proposed Valley light-rail line.
Richmond denied that political considerations influenced his decision. The new job will pay more and give him his first operational experience, the 39-year-old Altadena resident said. In addition, he will be working for a longtime personal friend, New Jersey Transit General Manager Jerry Primo, who was head of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission before Richmond. "I need to do some different things . . . just to keep my energy level up to full speed," he said.
Some officials felt that with Dyer and Richmond both leaving, it may make it easier to move ahead with a consolidation of the two agencies.
But others see little hope of state and local politicians quickly reconciling a variety of competing transit reorganization proposals--ranging form creating a single massive agency to splitting the current two agencies into three.
If the reorganization struggle continues, it will be difficult to recruit qualified RTD or commission top transit executives, many officials believe, because no one can say for sure what the jobs and responsibilities will be a year from now.