Decision on transit CEO scheduled for next week
Taylor — Regional Transit Authority officials said a decision on the future of the agency’s first CEO will be made by March 16 following questions raised about his job expenses.
The RTA board met Wednesday for two hours behind closed doors for the second time in a week to discuss the job performance of Michael Ford, who is under internal investigation.
The RTA is debating whether to renew his contract.
While the review was triggered by Ford’s contract, his future came into question when The Detroit News reported last week that Ford’s travel expenses were under scrutiny.
All of this comes four months after voters rejected a $4.6 billion millage to expand bus, rail line and shuttle services across Metro Detroit.
“We expect to have a full report at our upcoming board meeting next Thursday ... and that is all the comment I will have for today,” said Paul Hillegonds, chairman of the RTA board after the closed session at Wayne County Community College District downriver campus in Taylor.
Ford declined comment.
RTA spokesman Mario Morrow said the board will continue its review of Ford’s performance but indicated the board will have “some final closure to this situation.”
Last Thursday, Ford repaid $18,813 just hours after a closed-door meeting with board members. The money repaid a portion of mileage, cellphone, health care and insurance payments called into question that he has received since being hired in late 2014.
The payment also came hours after an exclusive report in The Detroit News detailed the ongoing investigation and Ford’s travel expenses. The expenses — including luxury hotel rooms at a cost of up to $560 a night — raised questions about the authority’s spending and financial controls at a time when the RTA is mulling whether to ask voters for billions of dollars in tax revenue to support regional transit.
Morrow said there had to be written prior approval for Ford’s expenses, such as travel, per his contract.
“The board is looking at this very carefully. Mr. Ford was already going through a performance evaluation, which is part of this now,” Morrow said. “With all the information that came out, they thought they would take a little more time in depth on each and every one of those issues as it relates to his expenses.”
Internal checks and balances of Ford’s expenses were not robust, Ford has said in a statement issued by Morrow.
Ford, 55, charged the authority about $37,000 for airfare, hotels, out-of-town meals, parking and mileage over 2 1/2 years, according to expense reports obtained by The News through the Freedom of Information Act.
During the closed-door meeting last week, RTA board members were to discuss whether they would renew his $200,000 annual contract.
The RTA’s internal investigation is focused on Ford’s expenses, including why the RTA reimbursed him directly for cellphone expenses instead of requiring the CEO to submit reimbursement requests as required by the group’s procedures. Ford reimbursed almost $5,300 for cellphone overpayments.
Another area of focus is mileage reimbursement. Ford receives a $10,000 car allowance but also has billed the RTA for $9,305 in mileage since November 2014. The review is looking at whether Ford received as much as double the amount permitted under his contract. He repaid approximately $3,500 for mileage Thursday.
The balance of the $18,813 payment covered insurance and health care benefits that Ford should not have received.
Thursday’s meeting came two weeks after RTA’s board postponed giving Ford, a $16,300 raise. The total amount of Ford’s travel expenses did not exceed the RTA’s budget, officials said, but details of the expenses and dates have apparently raised eyebrows.
The expenses, and an ongoing review by Hillegonds, have prompted questions about the authority’s spending and financial controls.
Ford’s three-year contract ends in October, but preliminary talks about an extension are clouded by the authority’s dwindling finances. The RTA board has a few weeks left to decide whether to renew his contract.
Ford became the authority’s first CEO in late 2014 and was tasked with coordinating regional transit and helping lead the unsuccessful effort to raise tax revenue.
The authority was created by the Legislature to plan and coordinate public transportation and develop rapid transit in the four-county Metro Detroit region. Its budget includes state funds for operations and federal money for transit planning.
A tax rejected by voters last fall would have paid for bus rapid transit, a rail line between Detroit and Ann Arbor, an airport shuttle service, a regional fare card system and other service changes. The 20-year millage would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.