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The Greater Cleveland RTA board needs new faces: editorial

January 6, 2019 GMT

The Greater Cleveland RTA board needs new faces: editorial

Longterm trustees of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority must realize their share in RTA’s serious management failures. Their lapses as overseers of Cuyahoga County’s public transit system should have put them on notice that among the changes needed is a revamped makeup of the RTA board.

Apart from three recent appointees, the board’s remaining six trustees should start the new year by resigning, to allow a fresh group to evaluate the important parallel efforts under way to get RTA on a smart path for the future.


The transit system remains under dangerous financial stress. It lacks permanent leadership and urgently needs a makeover and new vision. That can best be remedied with new board oversight. 

This is not to say that the six longer-tenured trustees bear specific or equal responsibility for RTA board omissions. But their departure would complete the recognition already seen in three new board appointments that the system needs entirely new management at all levels.

The tenures of the six date from nearly three years ago, in the case of the Rev. Charles Lucas, RTA board vice president, to 20 years ago, in the case of Westlake Mayor (and current RTA board president) Dennis Clough.

Recent board turnover reflects a recognition the board needs reinvigoration, including last month’s election of Parma Heights Mayor Michael Byrne over incumbent trustee Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins as one of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association’s three appointees.

In October, Cuyahoga County also named two new trustees following the abrupt resignation last August of 12-year Cuyahoga County appointee Nick “Sonny” Nardi of Teamsters Local 416.

Nardi’s resignation letter included a scathing depiction of the board’s omissions and his own frustrations. 

“At no time, since my first appointment to serve,” Nardi’s letter said, “have I felt more frustrated with recent management decisions, revelations on internal past practices and ongoing missteps in communications from management to the Board; all of which hinder the progress and forward momentum needed to navigate the current challenges of transit in the State of Ohio. Transparency and working together as a cohesive public agency, at all levels, is critical for RTA’s future stability and credibility.”

Nardi was 100 percent right about all of that.

This is a critical moment for RTA. Longtime General Manager Joe Calabrese has stepped down, although he continues as a “senior advisor.” But unanswered questions remain about his role in what RTA has estimated was a more than $1.1 million hit from RTA’s failure to crack down on now-departed RTA Board President George Dixon III’s alleged unpaid health premiums, undeserved health benefits and unreimbursed personal cellphone costs.


RTA trustees have wisely responded with a major reassessment of the system’s direction. Besides an outside search for a new RTA general manager, other consultants have been hired to recommend a new vision for RTA and revamp of its service map and a better understanding of the system’s economic impact, operational, resource and capital needs. 

This is not to minimize the services of the six: Mayor Clough; the Rev. Lucas; Leo Serrano, the executive director of the Cleveland schools’ Office of Institutional Advancement; Valarie McCall, Mayor Frank Jackson’s chief of communications, government and international affairs; lawyer Karen Gabriel Moss; and South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo.

But it is for the good of the organization that they go.

And if they don’t do so on their own, then their appointing authorities -- Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the mayors and city managers association each appoint three of the nine RTA trustees -- must persuade them to do so.

RTA needs a fresh set of trustees with new visions of their own and no baggage or old loyalties to hold them back as they evaluate RTA’s best moves forward.

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer -- the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.  

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