Hertel resigns as SMART bus general manager, accused of misuse of resources

Detroit — Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation general manager John Hertel inappropriately used SMART facilities and resources, members of the authority said Friday.

During a special meeting of the SMART Board of Directors Friday, the board voted to terminate its agreement with Hertel "for cause" and to not grant him severance pay. 

The meeting comes after Hertel announced his resignation effective Friday, about 10 days after it was announced that the bus line had extended his contract.

The authority, known as SMART, extended Hertel's contract through April 2022.

Board Chairwoman Hilarie Chambers said during the meeting that the authority received information in February that indicated that Hertel had been parking his fleet of personal vehicles in a SMART facility and inappropriately used SMART resources. 

SMART General Manager John C. Hertel in 2018.

The board voted that the effective date of the termination would be four weeks from Friday. The board requested that the human resource director immediately turn off Hertel’s IT access and access to SMART administrative offices, facilities and terminals.

The board also voted to turn over the files it received to the Michigan State Police.

Hertel could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Chambers said the board needed to take quick action to protect the bus service.

“The use of taxpayer money and the operation of SMART is critically important to us personally and to the communities that we represent," she said. "So it is my strongest desire to do everything that we can to ensure that this valuable and critical service that SMART provides to the residents that we work for is protected and is strengthened.

"While I’m deeply disturbed, disappointed by the information that was provided to us, it is all of our desire, I think as board members, to take action to ensure the immediate strengthening of SMART."

In a statement following the meeting, Chambers said that information shared with the board showed that Hertel was “using SMART to manage non-official matters like the storage of his fleet of personal vehicles.” She also said that Hertel’s contract extension announced last week occurred on Dec. 12, 2019, months before the information regarding Hertel was brought to the board’s attention.

The board also voted Friday to authorize the chair to sign contracts while they begin a search for a new general manager.

On Thursday, Hertel announced his resignation effective Friday. 

"It is with some regret that I must inform you that I have decided to end my service as SMART’s General Manager, effective as of the close of business tomorrow, March 13, 2020," Hertel said in a letter to SMART's Board of Directors.

"This year marks my 10th year serving SMART, its customers, its employees, and the general public of southeastern Michigan, in furtherance of effective, efficient and safe public transit in our region. I will miss that service, but the time has come for me to allow others to continue the work we’ve begun and accomplished together.."

Hertel was the general manager of SMART since 2010. Before that, he was CEO of the Regional Transit Coordinating Council.

Hertel had a long career as an elected official, serving as chairman of both the Wayne and Macomb county board of commissioners.

He also was general manager for the Michigan State Fair from 1993 to 2006 and had a four-decade run chairing the Huron-Clinton Metroparks Board of Commissioners.

SMART has operated as the region's only public transportation provider since 1967. The authority is governed by a board of directors comprised of representatives from Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne counties.

It has about 800 employees and a total of 726 vehicles, including fixed-route buses and community transit providers. About 29,000 riders use SMART buses on the average weekday.