SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz Metro’s board and CEO fired back against a grand jury report critical of the transportation body’s business practices and plans for growth.
The report, released in late June from the Santa Cruz Grand Jury, outlined a long list of items that metro needs to improve upon. Among the chief complaints were Metro’s decision to dip into reserve funding to maintain services, the unfulfilled marketing manager position and the need to find other sources of funding.
Following procedures, Metro’s CEO and board filed separate responses to the report, which were released on Aug. 31..
When it was released, Metro CEO Alex Clifford contended the report did not capture the scope of the governing body’s efforts to get back on its feet following years of digging into its reserves.
“I am pleased that their review found no waste, fraud or fiscal abuse,” Clifford wrote in an email to the Sentinel. “Unfortunately, none of the Grand Jury members were ‘transit experts’, and although they clearly tried to learn as much as possible about transit, transit is a complicated business and the Grand Jury members made mistakes in their report.” While there were some spots where Metro and the grand jury agreed, the responses largely contended the grand jury was wrong in its assessment.
One of those chief disagreements were in Metro’s management of funding. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the transportation body regularly dug into its $25 million of reserves to maintain services. The grand jury wrote the practice is not sustainable and the report directed Metro to look into more grant writing efforts for funding.
“Metro grant writing has been insufficient and ineffective,” the grand jury wrote.
The board responded by saying measures were already in place, pointing to funding from Measure D andSenate Bill 1, both of which are expected to contribute funds.
“Metro has been and plans to continue to seek additional funding sources,” the board wrote in its response.
Clifford, in his separate response, justified the board’s decision to dig into its financial reserves in the aftermath of the recession.
“The Board can choose to use its reserve for a rainy day or for capital expenditures. The Board chose to use its reserves to cover the rainy day impacts of the recession on bus operations. Unfortunately, the rainy day was longer than a day,” Clifford wrote.
Another critical point from the grand jury report was over metro’s lack of a marketing manager. It was recommended Metro fill the position to identify partnerships and revenue opportunities. The board and Clifford agreed with the finding and gave a broad timeline for when the position would be filled.
The board wrote that Clifford would revisit hiring for the position within the next two years.
With Metro’s response, the matter is considered closed, Clifford said.
As far as the future, the board is focused on funding, replacing its aging fleet of vehicles and staying reliable as the transportation landscape changes, according to board chairperson Jimmy Dutra said
“We’re just really trying to make Metro move forward with the times,” he said. “We want to stay relevant. Because of the lack of funding we’ve had for so many years, we’ve really been struggling.”
September 3, 2017
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Calvin Men