David Howe took over the gavel as chairperson of the TCAT Board of Directors at its first meeting of the year on Thurs., Jan. 26.
Howe, assistant dean of finance and administration at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, replaces TCAT Board Member Bill Gray, who served as chair in 2016. Howe has served on the board since September, 2012, and was in rotation to serve as this year's chairperson. "I thank Bill for his hard work and leadership as board chairman in 2016, and I look forward to working with him, my other fellow board members and TCAT staff this year to tackle the many challenges TCAT continues to face," Howe said. He said his focus this year will be on strategic planning, working closely with local funders and filling vacancies.
"TCAT, just like transit agencies all across the country, must constantly find ways to secure adequate and predictable funding, as well as come up with creative ways to attract and retain employees in a tight labor market," Howe said. "The talent demonstrated by both board members and staff give me every confidence that we can overcome any obstacles and maintain and grow this great transit system."
Howe said he is particularly excited about the launch of TCAT's long-awaited information technology improvements, which are expected to roll out this spring, and will provide passengers with real-time information they can obtain their mobile devices, the TCAT web site and with electronic signage at major passenger shelters.
"This will be a major milestone in TCAT's history and will vastly improve our ability to communicate with passengers by giving them on-the-spot information to help them plan their transit travels," said Howe, who was recommended by Cornell to serve on the TCAT board.
The City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University are TCAT's local underwriters. TCAT was established as a joint venture of transit agencies from each of the entities in 1998 and later became a private, not-for-profit corporation, effective 2005. As such, each underwriter is entitled to recommend three people to serve on the board. Those nominated, in turn, are considered for election by the TCAT board at its annual December meeting and, in their capacity as TCAT board members, serve TCAT independently of their respective recommending bodies.
Gray is former superintendent of the city's Department of Public Works having retired in 2013. He has a long history with TCAT and was part of a pre‑TCAT operating committee that formed in the early 1990s. Gray (recommended by the city and who has served on the TCAT board since August, 2011) will continue to serve this year as the board's immediate past chairperson.
"My focus was on redeveloping an understanding with our underwriters (city, county, and Cornell) of what they expected of TCAT," Gray said. "We are nearly 20 years out from the combining of the independent bus systems and more than 10 years from the creation of a not-for-profit private corporation, and it seemed important to have them restate their goals and their involvement in TCAT."
"The result was direction to undertake a combined transportation-focused and strategic-planning effort among the four parties." Gray said. "However, overshadowing any TCAT project was the health of our long-term General Manager Joe Turcotte. Sadly, Joe's death in May redirected our primary efforts to hiring a new general manager for TCAT."
At the December meeting, TCAT Acting General Manager Alice Eccleston thanked Gray for his service as chairperson in 2016. "I appreciate his leadership, guidance and support as we worked through a challenging year for TCAT," she said. She also thanked board members "for your dedication, commitment, service and most of all support in helping TCAT overcome the challenges and strive towards achieving our mission to provide safe, high quality, reliable, efficient public transportation. You are a very talented and amazing team."
TCAT Board member Ducson Nguyen, (recommended by the city and first joined the board in 2016) who is City of Ithaca Common Council, 2nd Ward Alderperson, was elected by the TCAT board at the December meeting to serve as secretary/treasurer this year. Board Member Peter Stein, Tompkins County Legislator, District 11 (recommended by the county and first joined the board in 2013) is serving as the board's vice-chairperson this year.
Others who will continue serving the TCAT board include Bridgette Brady, director of Cornell's Department of Transportation and Mail Services (recommended by Cornell); Jennifer Dotson, Ithaca Carshare executive director and former Ithaca Common Council Alderperson (recommended by the city); John Gutenberger, senior advisor of Cornell's Office of Community Relations (recommended by Cornell); Dan Klein, Tompkins County Legislator, District 7 (recommended by the county); and Frank Proto, a former Tompkins County legislator (recommended by the county.)
Dotson, Howe and Klein, whose terms were set to expire, were re-elected for another three years by the board at its December meeting. At that meeting Nguyen was re-elected to continue for another year to fill the unexpired term of Kevin Sutherland, former City of Ithaca Chief of Staff who left Ithaca in late 2015 to take a position as top administrator for the City of Saco, Maine.
As board chairperson, Howe this year is also chairing the board's executive committee, which also includes Gray, Nguyen and Stein. Other committee assignments set by Howe and approved by the board at its Jan. 26 meeting are as follows:
- Brady (chairperson)
- Klein (chairperson)
- Nguyen (chairperson)
A non-board member to continue to serve on the Transit Service Committee for a second year in a row is Fernando de Aragón (executive director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.) This year, Donna Fleming will also serve on the Transit Service Committee as a non-board member and as a liaison to the Tompkins County Council of Governments. Fleming is a City of Ithaca Common Council Alderperson, 3rd Ward.