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Woodlands seeking new transit manager after resignation

January 11, 2019 GMT

Officials at The Woodlands Township are seeking a new transit program manager after long-time leader of the department, Chris LaRue, resigned in mid-December.

Don Norrell, president and general manager of The Woodlands, confirmed that LaRue had given two-weeks notice and that his last day of work was on Dec. 20. No replacement has been hired and LaRue’s duties are being handled internally at the township, Norrell added.

“Chris resigned and we were all kind of surprised. His last day was Dec. 20,” Norrell said in a telephone interview. “He gave us the standard notice. Chris has done a good job for us. I was sad to hear him go (to another job). Chris was a great employee.”

LaRue had recently led the township through a series of transit issues, including the development of an online mobile ticketing app for The Woodlands Express bus service, as well as more recent projects that he proposed to offer more amenities to riders. The recent changes include an extra departure time from the Sterling Ridge Park and Ride lot, a new drop-off stop at the Texas Medical Center’s dental building, and an application for federal funds to start a new bus route to the Energy Corridor long Interstate 10.

On Friday, LaRue explained why he left his position with the township, saying that while the job leading The Woodlands transit program was one of the best he had in his career and he felt township officials supported him, he needed to think about his family’s best interests.

“Honestly, my time at the township was wonderful. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for me to come in and build something successful,” LaRue said. “I was sad to go. It was a very hard decision to make. But, I’ve got myself to think of myself, my wife, my family…I’ve got to take care of my family.”

LaRue has taken a new position at Houston-based AECOM, where he said he is doing similar transit work as he did in The Woodlands, but impacting a large number of people across the region. LaRue began working at the township on Jan. 13, 2014 and led the township’s transit program through many changes and improvements, all of which he said he is very proud to have been a part of — especially the acquisition of the Woodlands Express by the township.

“I think the township was supportive of my progressive transit policies. We comprehensively improved the program for the Town Center Trolley service, which increased ridership from 74,000 in 2016 to more than 132,000 in 2018,” LaRue explained. “We brought new and innovative technology to our transit service such as a mobile ticketing app….things that streamline the service.”

However, despite LaRue’s success, several of his presentations on proposed changes in September, October and November were often cut short by township board chairman Gordy Bunch, who during several meetings interrupted LaRue and told him the board did not need to hear the entire presentation he had prepared.

LaRue said the interactions with Bunch at the fall meetings had no role in his resignation from the township and that his new job was simply, “nothing more than a great opportunity I could not pass up.”

“When you do presentations and appear before public officials, you are going to get roughed up once in a while,” LaRue said of the meetings where his presentations were cut short or not heard. “I’ve testified before Congress and many other entities. It is not personal. Elected officials have a job to do ensuring the public’s interests are met.”

Bunch said he was sad to learn of LaRue’s departure, and noted that the two had a “great working relationship.”

“We have appreciated all the work (LaRue) has done for the township over the past several years,” Bunch said. “It’s my understanding he has been offered an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and I wish him nothing but success as he moves forward.”

Officials are currently seeking a replacement for LaRue, and township spokesperson Nick Wolda said job advertisements will be placed in various publications and websites. Currently, the transit program is being managed by John Powers, assistant general manager for Community Services, with help from Ruthanne Haut, the deputy director of Community Services who was hired in October.