RTD has put forward the names of the five finalists in the running for the top position in the agency, albeit on a temporary basis.
Whomever RTD's board of directors hires will take the reins at a pivotal time for the agency, as it navigates service cuts and a massive effort to rethink the direction of the state's largest transit agency.
The list includes Michael Ford, the current chief operating officer of RTD, Mike Meader, RTD's head of safety, Amy Ford, the Colorado Department of Transportation's former chief of advanced mobility and current head of the Mobility on Demand Alliance, Paul Ballard, former CEO of the Fort Worth Transit agency, and Jackie Millet, the current mayor of Lone Tree.
The 15-member board spoke with all of those candidates Thursday in a marathon day of interviews. By the early evening, the board retreated into executive session to deliberate. They emerged around 7:30 p.m. to announce the finalists.
- Michael Ford has been with RTD since 2018. He previously served as the CEO for the transit agency serving Detroit and surrounding counties. He faced questions for expensive reimbursements and his contract was ultimately terminated without cause after voters rejected a public transit expansion, according to the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.
- Mike Meader is first in line behind retiring General Manager Dave Genova to run RTD, according to the agency’s succession plan. He has been with the agency since 2016 as the chief safety officer. In that time, the agency has had to respond to spikes in red light violations, indicators of unsafe driving by rail operators. After CPR reporting found a large increase in 2017, the number of red light violations have dropped.
- As chief of advanced mobility, Amy Ford was involved with CDOT’s Smart Mobility Plan, which included installing fiber optic cable along roads to improve the state’s transportation services, as well as planning for internet-connected cars and autonomous vehicles. Prior to that, she was CDOT’s chief spokeswoman.
- Paul Ballard oversaw the creation of a 27-mile commuter line that connected Fort Worth to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. He retired in 2019, although he told the paper at the time of his announcement that he anticipated staying involved in public transportation as a consultant.
- Jackie Millet has been a strong proponent of RTD’s recent light rail expansions to Lone Tree. She has made transportation a top priority in the town, and is a registered civil engineer. She’s also the former board chair for the Denver Regional Council of Governments, which does planning for the region.
Board chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede, who was elected to that position by her fellow board members earlier this week, said they want to hear from community members about the finalists.
"So that when the interim general manager is selected, it will have been a regional decision rather than a group of 15 board members,” she said. “And I think that's sending a clear message to the community that, 'Hey, we want to partner with you. We want you to be part of the process.' "
Those candidates could serve anywhere from four to 14 months. The interim CEO will lead the agency while the board conducts a national search for a permanent replacement for the retiring Dave Genova. Genova has led RTD since March 2016. Four rail lines, all part of the FasTracks program voters passed in 2004, opened during his tenure. That includes the popular A Line from downtown to the Denver International Airport.
Mechanical problems on that line, however, led to threats from the federal government and delays in opening the G Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge. RTD and its contractor for those lines are currently suing each other in Denver District Court.
More recently, ridership across RTD’s light rail and bus system has slipped and the agency has been unable to keep its ranks of operators fully staffed. The latter issue has led RTD to propose temporary service cuts to try to give its overworked operators a break.
The person hired to replace Genova will oversee a critical period, as the transit agency moves into the heart of its ongoing two-year-long process called “Reimagine RTD.” The agency will re-evaluate its entire bus network, including where and how often service should run. It might also adjust its service boundaries, which now cover 2,342 square miles over metro Denver.
"We have big issues. And we have big opportunities,” said Rivera-Malpiede, the board chair. “As a board, and as a community, we need to be realistic about where we are and where we want to go. And maybe listen to some tough stuff. But at the end, come out on the other side with a holistic plan of action that's really going to meet the needs of the community."