Top SORTA leaders resign from positions as bus agency faces shake-up in 2018

Two top leaders in charge of the county’s bus and streetcar system are exiting the job as pressure to improve the area’s transportation system mounts.
 
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s chairman and vice chairman sent resignation letters to county and city leaders over the weekend, according to records WCPO obtained. 

The resignations come as pressure from local leaders to improve the SORTA-run bus system is building. The agency is also preparing to ask voters for more money to operate buses, while facing potentially drastic changes to its board leadership next year. 
 
SORTA also oversees streetcar operations for the city. 
 
SORTA Chairman Jason Dunn notified Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley in an email sent shortly after 5 p.m. Friday that he plans to resign from the position next month. Hours later, on Saturday morning, SORTA Vice Chairman Kenneth Reed sent a resignation email to Hamilton County Commissioners.
 

Dunn will leave the job four days early – his term officially expires Jan. 20 -- and will pass on a chance to apply for a third term. Meanwhile, Reed’s term was scheduled to end in January, according to a SORTA spokeswoman.  Cranley re-appointed Dunn to the position in 2014, and Butler County Commissioners nominated Reed to the position. 
 
Dunn told WCPO he plans to focus more on his full-time job as vice president of Multicultural Sales and Community Development at the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. 
 
“Being a good leader means, sometimes, you have to know when it’s time to step down,” Dunn, who has served on the board for six years, said. “You have to know when to walk away and let someone else fulfill the dream.”

Dunn said he is proud of his time on the board, which he said included raising awareness about the region’s transit needs and overseeing the hiring of SORTA Executive Director Dwight Ferrell. 

“We’re very involved in the community, showcasing that our organization, fiscally, needs to be addressed,” Dunn said. 

The resignations were also handed in just days after some board members tried to rid SORTA of handling the streetcar’s operations. SORTA trustee Gary Greenburg proposed a failed resolution last week to terminate the agency’s contract to operate the streetcar for the city. 
 
The 13-member SORTA board faces a big shake-up early next year.
 
County commissioners will consider the appointment of six members in January, while Cincinnati City Council will have five SORTA board appointments to consider next year. 
 
Dunn and Reed do not plan to re-apply for their positions, but it’s unclear how many of the sitting board members will apply again for the openings.

Commission President Todd Portune told WCPO he has been interviewing candidates -- both new and sitting board members -- for the six new county openings on the SORTA board. He could not provide exactly how many people have applied for the position.  
 
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld took to Twitter Monday to say he will consider a strict set of standards for appointing future SORTA board members.

“…The next person whom I’m asked to confirm to the SORTA Board of Trustees (which will be happening soon) must be a regular bus rider; this a non-negotiable prerequisite in order to earn my vote,” Sittenfeld said in the tweet.
 
Cincinnati City Council candidates just wrapped up months of campaigning for the city to take a deeper look at how to improve the county’s troubled transportation system. 
 
SORTA has warned that it faces the prospect of raising bus fares and a $20 million budget hole over the next five years if its financial situation doesn’t change. 
 
The SORTA board announced this summer that it would ask voters to approve a new sales tax levy in 2018. The board has not decided how much money it will seek from sales tax. 
 
Transportation, specifically adding and improving bus routes across the city as well as Hamilton County, emerged as a top issue on the campaign trail.
 
All three newly elected council members told WCPO in an interview that transportation is a key issue they want to tackle after taking office.

“A great public transit system that, to me, has to be our top priority,” Cincinnati City Councilman-elect Greg Landsman told WCPO’s Kristyn Hartman on This Week in Cincinnati. 

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