The North County Transit District has gone through a major transition since Matthew Tucker was hired as executive director just more than five years ago.

News reports by KPBS media partner, inewsource, have revealed a troubled public agency that has problems with its contractors and is now seeing an unusually high turnover of its management staff.

As inewsource reports:

NCTD runs the county’s COASTER, BREEZE, SPRINTER and LIFT transit services, and uses San Diego county’s tax base to support its operations. For the past 16 months, inewsource has published a series of stories in an ongoing investigation detailing the district’s holes in security, misallocation of funding, questionable contracting, high employee turnover, lawsuits, audits and peer criticism.

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.

Tucker addressed some of these issues in an interview with KPBS Evening Edition.

On the amount of turnover at high-level positions:

“Of the 23 employees identified (by inewsource), a significant number of them were not high-level employees whatsoever. About 37 percent of that 23 number were people that were laid off due to decisions that we made from a business point of view and the vast majority of them were also laid off due to the fact that they were being funded through grant programs that were being discontinued … going into July 1 of our new budget.”

On the how turnover could affect the agency’s performance:

“Our board is very comfortable with where we are. We have never in the history of the NCTD had more experienced people in positions than we have today. I’m very happy with the skill sets of the people that we have in positions today, in fact, one of the employees that holds one of those senior positions has been with NCTD probably 25 to 30-something years, so he has the adequate experience to do the work we’re asking him to do.”

Regarding complaints from former employees:

“From the point that I was hired in December 2008, the board had set a number of priorities. One was sort of financial stability, and then the other key principals were related to reshaping our business model, which required a change in our organizational culture. So if you look at during the time period that I’ve been there, you will see that we have developed plans across all of our business areas that never existed before. We’ve updated policies; we’ve brought in in-house general counsel. What I wanted to do was create an agency that was much more responsive, that the board — through policy and procedures — could have a better idea what’s going on. The fact of the matter is we do ask lots of questions, we do ask our employees hard questions, we do look at the work they do, we do scrutinize them and if we don’t think it’s where it needs to be, we ask them to continue to work on it. I don’t apologize for that. That’s part of doing the job, being due diligent, asking tough questions and expecting people to do their best.”

On why former employees signed non-disclosure agreements:

“Those employees chose to execute a severance agreement.”

“I can talk to you 100 percent about anything about what the agency is operating and I suspect for you most of the employees that KPBS speaks to and gives them anonymous comments, most of those comments are anonymous because those employees don’t want to attach their names to it. They understand that KPBS is facilitating and supporting of an approach that doesn’t afford NCTD due process. Everyone would really love to take a cheap shot at someone without ever having anybody call and question they own performance and their own behavior. That’s really something that’s a little bit surprising for a credible organization to carry that.”

On the amount of severance pay issued:

“At the end of the day, what is the compassionate, human, fair thing to do for people who are transitioning into a pretty tough economy? So, if the argument is that we should not be providing severances to people who are leaving employment, let’s have that as a discussion point. I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

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4 replies on “NCTD Chief Answers Questions About Agency Turnover”

  1. I posted the following comment on the KPBS website on July 3.

    Yep, the Tucker Crazy Train continues to lurch incoherently. Tucker must think that no one is intelligent enough to notice that he ignores direct questions, talks in generalities, and tries to avoid being pinned down. Just look closely at his 5 paragraphs of quotes on this page. There is virtually no content in any of those 5 paragraphs.

    So here are just a few sobering statistics to help put things in context.

    Remember that all of the turnover discussed in this latest story is just from the PAST SIX MONTHS ALONE! The Deputy General Manager, the Chief Operations Officer, the Deputy Chief Operations Officer, etc., etc. JUST IN SIX MONTHS! Over the past few years, the cumulative turnover is much, much higher.

    In the few years since Tucker has been at NCTD, there have been:
    3 Chief Operating Officers
    3 Intergovernmental Affairs Officers
    3 Managers of HR
    3 Chiefs of Transit Enforcement
    4 ADA Administrators
    5 (count ’em, FIVE!) Managers of Communications and Marketing
    and that is just a PARTIAL list of the organizational chaos. The list could go on and on!

    Don’t even try to understand the org charts, which are generally not even updated because Tucker keeps changing the structure. Employees frequently are confused about who their department reports to. The NCTD website still shows the January 6, 2014 org chart, with a bunch of departments reporting to Deputy General Manager Reed Caldwell. He’s been gone since December!

    Tucker plays carelessly with the lives and careers of his employees, the way a child with ADHD might play carelessly with action figures. First Tucker hires a new employee, frequently paying $25,000 or more in recruiting fees to his recruiter buddy Tony Kouneski. Then Tucker gets bored and fires the employee, requiring non-disclosure in severance agreements, to keep Tucker’s misdeeds secret from the public. Then Tucker hires some more. And this chaos causes enormous waste like the Sprinter shutdown.

    As a member of the riding public, do you feel safe knowing about this kind of organizational insanity? Is this the kind of organization you can trust with your safety, or the safety of your children?

    July 10 update:
    Former employees know that Tucker reads all NCTD news story comments obsessively. The January 6 org chart has now been updated on the NCTD website as of Monday, July 7. It took 6 months, and my July 3 comment on the KPBS website, for Tucker to update the org chart to show the removal of Deputy General Manager Reed Caldwell, who has been gone since December.

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