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Watson officially signs on as new head of Cap Metro

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Nearly 10 months after Fred Gilliam retired as CEO and president of Capital Metro, the transit authority finally has a new leader. At its meeting yesterday the Cap Metro board of directors voted unanimously to offer the job to Linda Watson.


Watson, who is currently the head of the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Orlando, takes over for Interim President and CEO Doug Allen starting August 16.


Under the terms of her five-year contract, Watson will be making a base salary of $228,000. She will be eligible for a 4 percent annual increase if the budget allows and the board votes to take that specific action. She is also eligible for a performance bonus of 12.5 percent per year based on an annual performance review that will be performed by the board. The board will determine the standards of that review during Watson’s first 60 days on the job.


Watson was one of two finalists for the position. The former general manager of the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority and assistant general manager of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority beat out Deborah Wathen Finn, the current president of the Wathen Group.


Speaking briefly after signing her contract, Watson said she is looking forward to making Cap Metro one of the things Austin is known for. “There are so many things Austin has to offer,” she said. “The things (people) mention are often Dell Computers, IBM, the University of Texas. I want Capital Metro to be on that list so that we add to (the city’s) positive image.”


In her comments to the press, Watson did acknowledge the work that will need to be done, not only to improve the transit authority’s troubled financial situation but also to regain the public’s trust after several years plagued by labor disputes, a shrinking budget, and the oft-delayed launch of the city’s commuter rail line, culminating in a damning report by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission in April. That report said the agency had failed to responsibly manage its finances and was in long-term financial risk.


“We have some work to do on the image that we portray in the community,” she said. “We have to improve the public’s confidence. That’s one of the things that really excited me about this opportunity because that’s something that comes naturally to me. I want to be a part of the community.”


She also said that she is working on a first-100-days plan centered around three priorities: improving relations with Cap Metro’s union, improving the agency’s paratransit services, and improving its overall image in the community.


“I think those are three priorities that I think we can do a better job on,” Watson said.


The new president pointed out that she would not be taking the car allowance offered to her under the terms of the contract, and that, rather, she would be taking the bus as much as she is able. “I leased a place this morning that is on a bus stop. I’ve got three routes and I’m hoping to use the bus as much as possible,” she said.


Time will tell if Watson is able to right the Cap Metro ship, but she expressed confidence that her experience in the “number one destination for tourists in the country” will help her lead in a community that is “number one in terms of places to live.”


“Some of the challenges and opportunities are similar to the things I’ve done in Orlando and they are things I like to do,” she said. “I enjoy working and interacting with the business community, all aspects of the community, and making sure we partner with a lot of different stakeholders to make a strong community because transit really is a part of the fabric of the community.”


“Linda will be a vital part in helping transform our agency into a world-class transit provider. I am confident Linda is the right person to get this done and help Cap Metro turn the corner as we address our agency’s challenges. She has a wealth of experience, knowledge and a track record that shows she can run a transit agency that is efficient and effective,” said Board Chair, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez.

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