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Chair Lee Walker retiring from Cap Metro board

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Lee Walker, chair of Capital Metro’s board of directors since 1997, announced Monday that he is retiring from that position on May 31. Walker took the position in the midst of an FBI investigation of the agency and has led it through a turbulent decade of change.


Walker did not give a specific reason for leaving, just saying, “It’s time. This is a very family-focused decision,” Walker said, with wife Jennifer Vickers and their two daughters at his side. “I need to be more attentive to my family.”


In addition to his duties with Capital Metro, the 66-year-old Walker teaches at the Graduate School of Business Management at The University of Texas and serves on other boards such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Westcave Preserve. He said he intends to continue teaching.


Walker, 66, said he was leaving at this point to allow whoever follows him a chance to prepare for the beginning of rail service this fall and the 2009 Legislative session.


“While there is never a right time to leave, I nevertheless feel my time has come,” he said in a letter to CAMPO Chair Sen. Kirk Watson. “I would like nothing more than to stay on until the day I take my first train ride. However, that would not be fair to the agency.”


Developing a rail system has been a major part of Walker’s tenure. A proposition to build a major light rail system throughout the Austin area was narrowly defeated in 2000, but a commuter rail system from Leander to Downtown Austin was approved in 2004, and is scheduled to begin carrying passengers later this year.


At the time of his appointment, the Texas Legislature had disbanded the previous Capital Metro board amidst accusations of financial irregularities and poor management.


“In addition to improving Cap Metro services, we have set an ethical standard for our business operations that permeates every corner of the agency,” he said. “I hope my service has helped bring stability to the organization and integrity to its processes.”


A large crowd gathered in the Capital Metro boardroom for Walker’s announcement, including most of his fellow board members, Austin Mayor Will Wynn and other local officials.


“Twelve years ago, I was chair of the Transportation Committee of the Downtown Austin Alliance, a regular bus commuter and a frequent critic of Capital Metro.” Wynn said. “Now we find ourselves in a very different and much better place – and the vast bulk of the credit goes to Lee Walker for his exceptional vision and tireless volunteer service.”


Watson said he encouraged Walker to take the job back in 1997.


“It was long ago and, and it was a time so much more contentious and painful than now, its easy to forget what a huge task he faced,” Watson said. “Capital Metro is better off because of his leadership.”


Council Member and fellow Capital Metro Board Member Brewster McCracken said Walker took over during a time of extreme controversy.


“There was a lot of turmoil in the agency,” McCracken said. “He did a remarkable job in transforming the agency into one that is widely acknowledged to be a clean, honest, corruption-free agency. That’s a huge achievement in any government and something we should be very grateful for.”


McCracken said Walker’s replacement would have to be someone who can work with CAMPO.


“If the board of CAMPO is going to be the public planning agency for all things rail, in addition to all things road, it just makes sense that Cap Metro and CAMPO be very closely in synch,” he said.


Watson said he intends to name a new chair to the Capital Metro board, hopefully by the time Walker leaves in May. Longer term, Watson intends to carry some type of Capital Metro legislation into the next legislative session, likely dealing with the two issues a CAMPO peer review subcommittee is looking at concerning Cap Metro right now: sustainability and governance.


Walker graduated from Texas A&M University in 1964 and from Harvard Business School in 1967. After a stint as an entrepreneur in the New York, Walker returned to Texas and served as president of the company that would become Dell Computer.

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