AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro President and CEO Randy Clarke is leaving Austin for Washington, D.C. to lead the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, CapMetro officials said Tuesday.
Clarke will take on the role of general manager and CEO at WMATA later this summer with an annual salary of $485,000, according to WMATA. The agreement is for five years.
WMATA said its board of directors chose Clarke after “an exhaustive nationwide search.” The agency’s current general manager and CEO plans to retire June 30.
“All along my desire has been to see more communities served through providing better access to high-quality transit, and it’s been an honor to have served the people of Austin and Central Texas,” Clarke said in a press release Tuesday. “I want to thank the incredible staff at CapMetro, our board members, customers, community stakeholders and partners for your support and friendship for the four-plus years that I’ve called Austin my home. This place and you all will be always near to my heart.”
Clarke has been president and CEO of CapMetro since March 2018 and helped to get Project Connect, Austin’s plan to bring a light rail network to the city, in front of voters. Before coming to Austin, Clarke worked at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
CapMetro said its board members will meet this month to discuss how to transition its leadership.
“The fact that we’re about ready to build out Project Connect, and he was intimately familiar with all of the details behind that and how we got to where we are today — it’s going to be a loss for Austin,” John Langmore — who is currently on Project Connect’s finance and risk committee — said Tuesday.
Langmore was on CapMetro’s board back in 2010 when CapMetro hired Clarke’s predecessor, Linda Watson.
“It was a pretty exhaustive process. We hired an executive search firm, to put the word out across the country,” he explained, recalling the search took about six to eight months.
He explained hiring executives for the public sector is complicated.
“Frequently, they’re doing well in their existing job. And they don’t want the word to get out that they’re contemplating another job. So it’s a very — it’s a very delicate dance,” Langmore said.
“If you put three names forward to the public, then two of those aren’t going to get the job, and yet the word is out that they’re looking. So it’s a very difficult task to strike that balance between being transparent locally, and not jeopardizing the job of someone that’s doing well in their current position,” he continued.
Langmore said it’s too soon to tell if this will impact Project Connect’s timeline.
“It’s hard to say whether or not this will slow Project Connect down in terms of its implementation. I would think they have a very good staff below the CEO,” Langmore said. “The longer that takes, the more it will have the potential to impact the schedule of Project Connect, which is something Austin can ill afford.”
Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, who is on CapMetro’s board, said Clarke’s departure will not impact the project’s rollout.
“I don’t anticipate any delays. Because as we said before, we have got a team in place,” Travillion said, pointing to positions below Clarke who have years of experience.
“When you look at our chief operating officer, Dottie Watkins has worked her way up through the organization, and in many ways, has become the face of the organization,” Travillion continued. “I think that the operations are in very good hands. We have brought in an operating officer from Houston, we have brought in a vice president of safety from another large transit organization.”
He said when looking for the next candidate, the board will want someone who has operated in an organization similar to CapMetro’s size and function.
“We will certainly look far and wide because that’s what you should do. But we want to make sure that we have the type of person who understands this community and its complexities, the historical complexities, the complexities that come with a region that doubles its population in 12 years instead of 20,” Travillion said.
He said there’s not yet a timeline on when a new candidate will be hired.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler also weighed in on Clarke’s departure Tuesday.
“I’m excited for the opportunity that he has. I think it’s where he’s going to be missed here. He did a really good job and helping to lead us to this point,” Adler said.
He also said he believes Project Connect’s implementation could be a potential attraction for top talent, in addition to the city’s growth itself.
“It’s just the golden age for mobility. We’re doubling the size of our airport, now underway. I-35 has been approved adding four lanes to in each direction,” Adler said. “The transit system is growing and has a great brand in the city. And then on top of all of that, we’re going to be building out a $10 billion public mass transit system that goes underground downtown. This is an exciting place to be.”