Managers continue to leave North County Transit District, severance adds up

At least 20 high-level managers and employees at the North County Transit District have left the agency since Jan. 1, continuing an exodus that began more than a year ago.

All told, the recent departures cost the district $299,489 in severance payouts, according to district records. That amount does not include the costs of rehiring and retraining replacements.

Among those inewsource confirmed have recently left are the chief operations officer, the chief of safety, the chief of transit enforcement, the deputy general manager, the manager of marketing, the director of the Project Management Office and Capital Budget, and the project manager for the district’s $87 million Positive Train Control program.

Hover over this text for background about the ongoing NCTD investigation

Other departures include senior contract administrators, civil engineers, grants managers, community affairs supervisors and coordinators.

NCTD would not comment on the turnover. Rather, an email from its CEO, Matthew Tucker, stated that the agency “strongly believes in the right of privacy for both our current and former employees” and doesn’t believe it’s “good business practice” to get into specifics about those who have left.

The agency also wouldn’t confirm who has left. inewsource pieced that together through severance agreements and interviews with former employees.

Mistakes will be made

Richard Katz, a former LA Metrolink chairman and veteran chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, has been critical of NCTD operations in the past.

Richard Katz

Richard Katz

The turnover now — as it was then — is a concern, Katz said.

“It would be very troubling to me as a board member to see that happening at my agency,” he said.

“Who’s training the new folks that are coming in?” Katz said. “Unless they’re being replaced by similar seniority-level people — which I don’t believe they are — you have to wonder about the training that’s taking place, the operations — how they’re running, what’s happening with the safety culture there.”

Eventually, mistakes will be made.”

— Angela Miller

The safety culture was just one of many points that the district’s former chief technology officer, Angela Miller, warned about in her resignation letter to NCTD’s board of directors in 2012. In it, she described the climate inside the Oceanside headquarters:

“High personnel turnover led in my opinion to instability, lack of transit experience, a vacuum of basic understanding of federal requirements, dissension and contention among colleagues, and disruption to the organization. I believe the morale of the organization is at an all-time low. The climate encourages the behavior I referenced above, and unchecked will continue to erode the District.”

The confidential resignation letter was leaked to inewsource last year. Miller also wrote,

“I have been vocal to the internal organization about safety and security risks I believe now face the agency as a direct result of this attrition. Eventually, mistakes will be made.”

“I fear for the long-term viability of the agency if course-correction does not occur,” she said.

Anonymous comments

John Aguilera

NCTD board member John Aguilera

inewsource asked an NCTD board member, Vista Deputy Mayor John Aguilera, to react to comments from other former NCTD managers — about their experiences inside his agency.

Aguilera instead passed the request up to Tucker, who declined to comment on behalf of NCTD and the board of directors.

“NCTD also does not believe that it is prudent to respond to anonymous comments,” Tucker wrote.

NCTD’s severance agreements warn departing employees about discussing district business:

libel

Yet off-the-record, and for more than a year, many former workers have informed inewsource’s reporting, leading to documents and other primary sources of information that have formed the basis for more than 30 stories over the past year about management and safety issues.

Two of those former managers wished to detail their concerns to Aguilera for his reaction. But because that didn’t work as planned, they are allowing their statements to be published anonymously. inewsource decided to use the information because it’s in the public interest, but agreed not to quote the sources by name because of legal repercussions they could face.

Two veterans

One former higher-up at NCTD wrote to inewsource about the last year in the district:

“A definite lack of trust for all employees and their ability became apparent. General Counsel was brought in.  We were writing scopes of work for outside entities to perform tasks that were based in work that we had been hired to perform for the agency. All documents had to be reviewed at the General Counsel level. This became gridlock for most departments.  Simple documents could not make it through the constant review process. Some of us were told our performance was declining.  Everything was in a state of flux.”
Another former employee, high up on the chain of command, was one of many who placed the blame squarely on NCTD’s CEO:
“It has nothing to do with the riding public anymore, or the long term or short term interest of the agency. It’s all about what makes him look good.”

“There is no morale. You don’t need to be a genius to see that when you fire people on a weekly and biweekly basis, you’re not going to have continuity, you’re not going to have teamwork.”

Katz, from LA, said, “For that number from one railroad to leave, particularly in those senior positions — there’s something going on with the railroad that they’re uncomfortable with, or that doesn’t make sense to them, that they feel they can’t change.”

A little more than a year ago, inewsource wrote about NCTD’s upper-management exodus that — at the time — was just beginning.

inewsource reported:

“Twenty-one of the top 25 senior level employees have left NCTD since Matthew Tucker, once head of transportation for the state of Virginia, took over as CEO in 2009. Some, like Miller, left on their own. Many others were laid off but then replaced with employees who would be laid off and replaced again.”

Throughout inewsource’s investigation, nearly every member of NCTD’s board of directors — elected representatives from the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Vista, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Solana Beach — has refused to be interviewed or offer comment.

The chairman of the board is San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn.

inewsource is currently suing NCTD for the disclosure of records related to a $31,200 management review. A hearing in Superior Court is set for Aug. 15, 2014.

Severance payouts — source: NCTD

Name Last Position Severance Amount Date severance agreement signed Last day of employment
Diane E. Hessler Capital Projects Management Accountant $50,000.00 3/4/2014 4/15/2014
Reed Caldwell Deputy General Manager $40,274.00 12/16/2013 2/17/2014
Frank David J. Murphy Chief Operations Officer $36,005.00 5/1/2014 7/24/2014
Larry Frum Senior Contracts Administrator $32,209.00 10/30/2013 5/15/2014
Bradly N. Hansen Director, Project Management Office/Capital Budget $31,252.00 4/30/2014 6/30/2014
Elisa Castro-Pacheco Project Manager $25,002.00 2/14/2014 4/15/2014
Deborah M. Castillo Manager of Marketing and Communications $23,057.00 1/23/2014 3/21/2014
Melba R. Novoa Senior Community Affairs Supervisor $20,970.00 5/12/2014 6/30/2014
Holly A. Lam Contract Administrator $15,002.00 5/7/2014 6/30/2014
Kelly E. Makatura Mobility Management Program Transportation Coordinator $7,502.00 5/20/2014 6/30/2014
Alana G. Burkett Mobility Management Program Transportation Coordinator $7,502.00 5/14/2014 6/30/2014
Kathrina Joy G. Fulgueras Administrative Assistant $6,240.00 5/16/2014 6/30/2014
Thomas S. Tulley Chief of Safety $4,474.00 1/2/2014 1/3/2014
TOTAL $299,489.00
Philip Chiu Document Control Coordinator *** *** ***
Brittani Donnachie Grants Manager *** *** ***
Ramona Edwards Senior Contract Administrator *** *** ***
Nick Freeman Deputy Chief Operations Officer *** *** ***
Eric Hoch Transit Planner *** *** ***
Izzy Marguia Management Analyst *** *** ***
Cyril Rajan Civil Engineer *** *** ***
Tom Zoll Chief of Transit Enforcement *** *** ***
*** denotes “unknown”

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino

Brad Racino is a reporter, producer and editor at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email bradracino@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-3569.
  • http://wutinaxin.wordpress.com pinustorreyana

    Dear Brad,
    Thank you for your ongoing investigation of NCTD. I have a great interest because I have been riding the NCTD 101 Breeze to and from work daily for the past 22 years, and I would like to see public transportation run well and fairly in the future. Bill Miller

  • Brad Racino

    Thank you, Bill. I appreciate your reading.
    I’ll keep on it..

  • Ann

    I am a former NCTD employee, and I would add that the exodus was going on even before I got there two years ago. The exodus started in 2009 when Tucker came in. Unfortunately with Bill Horn winning another term, the exodus will continue, because Tucker will remain. The best thing that could happen at NCTD would be Tucker taking a gig elsewhere.

    If you live in North County, you need to contact your rep on the Board and ask them to take a long, hard look at what Tucker is doing at NCTD, and why there is no continuity at NCTD. If you ride the COASTER, contact the Board. Same goes for the SPRINTER or Bus. Your safety and everyone else’s depends on it.

    There is a lack of knowledge at NCTD. You have a constant flow of new employees coming in and then leaving, and there is know knowledge base to lean on. Processes and procedures are not documented, managers don’t manage, and people with poor personality traits are allowed to run wild until they are axed and given severance.

    A couple of notes. Metrolink is not exactly a friend to NCTD. They would love to take over the NCTD territory and absorb it so they can have access to the SD Territory south of Oceanside. So using RIchard Katz for quotes gets a little dicey. Katz has skin in the game, so perhaps remove him from the go to list for quotes.

    The same goes for Angela Miller. Miller had a pretty chequered history at the agency, and was one of the personalities that was allowed to run wild, until some of her work was finally reviewed. In short, she left a big mess to clean up.

    In short, no one seems to be in charge day to day at NCTD. Decent decisions can be made, but Tucker can and will override, like he did on the Sprinter PR outsourcing.

    Now that the agency has inside legal counsel, the counsel is used to insulate tucker, block progress and is yet another bad personality.

    Bottom line: Tucker’s record at the agency needs to be reviewed, from poor oversight of the transit contractors, poor oversight of his managers, bad behavior toward staff and contractors. Tucker is a disaster, and a bad guy who shouldn’t have the right to toy with people’s jobs and the public’s safety.

    I may have criticized Racino in the past, but now more than ever, we need this information disseminated far and wide in the county until it reaches critical mass.

    • Brad Racino

      Thanks, Ann. I will take your comments into consideration. Regarding Angela Miller — I do not know her, but I am slightly stuck in that she is the only person I have ever been able to find who actually put her concerns in writing. And those are the concerns that I’ve been told time and again by employees who will not go on the record… so it makes sense to me to use Miller’s letter to highlight these things.

      Regarding Katz — if I could find someone else in a position of authority like him to add to the list of folks going on the record, I would do it. And believe me I’ve been trying. Hopefully more will come forward soon.

      Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the comments.

      -Brad

  • ConcernedCitizen

    I read the comment from “Ann” above with great interest.

    I agree with 95% of Ann’s comment. I enthusiastically echo the advice for riders of the buses and trains to contact their NCTD Board representatives. The organizational disarray caused by Tucker will inevitably affect the safety of NCTD’s riders. The NCTD Board is ignoring red flag after red flag. Do not let the problems escalate to the level of a fatal accident before taking action.

    I have to respectfully disagree with Ann on a few small points. Specifically, all concerned citizens should thank Richard Katz, Angela Miller, and Brad Racino for their efforts to help improve the terrible situation created by Matt Tucker.

    First, Richard Katz. His credentials speak for themselves – years of achievement at both LA MTA and at Metrolink. Regarding NCTD, he should be thanked for his willingness to go on the record about Tucker’s mess. Obviously his views are shared by the other agencies who’ve worked with Tucker, in Virginia and California. But most of those officials aren’t willing to spend any of their political capital to improve the situation in north San Diego County. Katz has been willing, and kudos to him for standing up. It would be good if some of the other officials at MTA, OCTA, MTS, and SANDAG shared his courage.

    Second, Angela Miller. Her credentials also speak for themselves, including national recognition from Computerworld and from the American Public Transportation Association. She is without question the most effective CIO in NCTD’s history. She also made a direct attempt to notify the NCTD Board of the problems facing NCTD. Her warnings were prescient. Just months after her warning to the NCTD Board, the Sprinter was shut down for an extended period. Tucker has never provided a full accounting for why Sprinter maintenance projects were delayed and canceled prior to the shutdown. Miller’s courage should also be applauded.

    Third, Brad Racino. He has received national recognition for his reporting on NCTD. His meticulous research and attention to detail is very impressive. Without his reporting, many of the revelations of the past year would have been obscured by a fog of Tucker’s self-serving press releases and cover-ups. If any former employee thinks he has missed a big issue, I urge you to call him and let him know. Better to help Racino do further reporting than be silent on the sidelines.

    But as I mentioned at the outset, I agree with the other 95% of Ann’s comment. We need a “big tent” of cooperation in changing NCTD. The situation at NCTD is further degenerating. It is a mystery how public officials on the NCTD Board can stick their heads in the sand on this problem. The citizens of north San Diego county deserve far better than the service Matt Tucker is providing them.

  • NCTD Disaster

    Interesting that Angela Miller felt compelled to comment on her own legacy at NCTD.

    To that I would say, the past is the past, and one should just be glad they don’t work at NCTD any more, especially if they were able to grab a piece of the five year pension.

    I worked at NCTD at one point in 2012, so if we start adding up all the people who have left in the last 3 years, I counted about 30 during my time, there was 21 listed above, and maybe 21 in 2011, according to some of the links in these articles. That’s 70 people in 3-4 years, and I suspect it’s way higher if were to count First Transit, TASI, FACT and any of the other contractors. No matter how you add it up, it’s a travesty for workers, and for taxpayers, and for the ridership.

    In short, it’s not just managers who are fleeing, it’s regular employees as well. In fact, you’re better off if you’re a manager, because then you have fewer deliverables in your hands, ie more ways to fail. Only the function people survive at NCTD, ie payroll, accounting, some of the infrastructure, and perhaps IT. Otherwise, you’re not meeting your “goals”, and it’s impossible to meet your goals with their outdated requisition processes and all the legal review.

    It’s the classic catch-22, if you’re competent, the pile it on, even if it’s way outside of your job description. And no, a lot of people inside and outside the agency will never comment, because the world of transit is small, and even some of those who leave go to companies that then work with the agency. Richard Katz can comment because he’s an ex board member at Metrolink, so he has little association now with the world of transit. Believe me, no employee of Metrolink would ever comment.

    An other issue is San Diego is so car dependentl, most people have no interest in public transit, because they don’t use it. So although we need people to contact their city reps, I bet few will do so. IT will probably take 4 more years until Horn is off the board for change to occur. Outside of Horn and Packard (gallo?), most of the current board members are new with only a year or so under their belts, so they don’t know much about the workings of the agency. Also, they don’t come into the offices and they probably only spend a couple of hours a month on agency business, in addtion to the other boards they sit on.

    So oversight of NCTD is completely lacking. There is literally NO ONE to curb Tucker. The whole staff would have to resign this afternoon to have an effect. Tucker’s main task when he came in was to fire the bus drivers and rid the agency of its pension mess and the debt that came in from the Sprinter. Lots of agencies outsource now, and it’s doable, but NCTD runs at such a thin margin on personnel, that when coupled with high turnover, you have huge gaps in oversight, both in the office and with contractors.

    Your best hope is Tucker either decides to move, or gets nailed for some of his bullying tactics. But with no one to go on record, good luck with that. Hopefully it won’t take another screw up like the Sprinter to get the Board to realize that Tucker must go.

    NCTD board if you’re reading, please review the list of severance money and resignations and act…

    • http://managerscontinuetoleavenorthcountytransitdistrict mike werner

      I have been told that of these 2 separate transit companies in S.D. county: that 1 is ‘federally funded’, as the other is not. In why there be no merge of these 2 (MTS/NCTD). As S.D. as a county is small enough in that 2 individual transit companies are not needed. Even more, as public transit be not yet be enough in the demand. MTS would do better management than NCTD, I had known for some time. But already, I as a (mostly) MTS been a WATCHDOG against their lack of performance. As there be no others. And NCTD needs such the same for their transit system.
      I HAVE THANKED BRAD, For Brad’s Earlier Coverage About MTS Security Guards. Add that over time, MTS has added more security in the trolley cars — due to Our 1st Amendment being used. As our chats are being recorded inside.