Former OCTA CEO reflecting and moving forward

Posted on March 5, 2013 by Will Kempton

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” - Theodore Roosevelt.

As I begin a new chapter in my career, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my time as CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). Last week, I retired from public service and this month will assume the role of executive director of Transportation California, a statewide nonprofit association dedicated to transportation advocacy and education.  

With my time at OCTA having come to a close, the questions I am asking myself are, ‘Did I make a positive contribution to the organization?’ and ‘Have I left it in better shape than when I arrived?’

To say it was a somber environment when I began my tenure at OCTA is an understatement. When I joined the agency in August 2009, sales tax was plummeting, forcing us to reduce bus service, lay off employees and re-evaluate our Measure M2 program, Orange County’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

But what began as one of my biggest challenges as CEO turned into some of our agency’s greatest accomplishments. We successfully managed through one of the most difficult economic downturns in our nation’s history and in the end came out a stronger agency. Today, OCTA is fiscally sound, beginning to restore some service and the agency is operating more efficiently.

As we dealt with the difficulties of the economy, we also had to remain focused on delivering what we promised to the voters under Measure M2. The program is now anticipated to provide $14.5 billion for transportation improvements — some $10 billion less than originally expected.

Since 2009, OCTA has delivered, brought to construction or initiated approximately $2 billion worth of construction projects in the county. In addition, we have had to ensure we could complete all the Measure M2 projects, despite the decline in sales tax revenues. That was accomplished through the M2020 plan, which will carry OCTA from today through the next decade by bonding and sequencing projects to manage the cash flow. Two-thirds of OCTA’s freeway projects will be under construction by 2020 with the remaining projects environmentally cleared.

The core element to being able to tackle the recession and prepare for delivery of the Measure M2 program was unifying OCTA’s workforce. During my tenure, we developed OCTA’s first five-year strategic plan and implemented a performance-based management structure as well as encouraged unity among the agency’s staff. Two-thirds of our employees operate within the transit division, but OCTA also has contracted and administrative staff and bringing these groups together has played an essential role in maintaining and enhancing employee morale.

It is with mixed emotions that I leave behind an agency comprised of truly remarkable individuals. I have continually been impressed, encouraged and motivated by our dedicated team.

With my days at OCTA at an end, I am confident that the agency is a stronger, more efficient organization and is well prepared to continue delivering services, projects and programs that impact millions of people each year.

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