AAATA’s CEO Is Finalist for RTA Job

Michael Ford is one of three finalists for the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority CEO, with interviews to be held next week; received positive performance review this week from AAATA board

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford has been named as one of three finalists for CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

AAATA CEO Michael Ford spoke with Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living director for advocacy and education Carolyn Grawi.

AAATA CEO Michael Ford spoke with Carolyn Grawi, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living director for advocacy and education, after the May 15, 2014 meeting of the AAATA board.

The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit. It was established by the Michigan legislature in late 2012.

The RTA’s hiring of a CEO has been frustrated by a lack of state funding. John Hertel, general manager of SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), was appointed CEO by the RTA board last year, but he eventually left the post in early 2014 because no funding was available for his salary.

Crain’s Detroit Business reported the Friday, May 16 vote by the RTA’s executive and policy committee to recommend Ford as well as two other finalists for the job.

The two other finalists are:

  • Albert Martin, former director of the Detroit Dept. of Transportation and the Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority (the forerunner to SMART) bus systems, and a former deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation.
  • Brian Marshall, a transit consultant and former CEO of the Capital Area Transit System in Baton Rouge, La., who also spent 20 years with the Chicago Transit Authority.

Crain’s reports that the three candidates will be interviewed by the whole RTA board starting at noon on Wednesday, May 21. The interviews will be open to the public and held at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) office at 1001 Woodward in Detroit. Washtenaw County’s two representatives on the RTA board are Liz Gerber, a University of Michigan professor of public policy, and former state legislator Alma Wheeler Smith.

In 2016, the RTA will likely be asking voters in the four-county area for approval of a property tax or a vehicle registration fee to support regional transportation services.

Ford’s selection as a finalist comes a little over a week after voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township passed a new 0.7 mill tax for the AAATA with clear majority support.

His selection also comes the day after the AAATA board held a closed session to conduct his regular performance review, as part of the May 15 board meeting. The review should have been completed around the start of the fiscal year in October or November of 2013. Ford was invited into the closed session for roughly the final 20 minutes of the session. When the board emerged from its closed session, which lasted about an hour and ten minutes, AAATA board chair Charles Griffith apologized to Ford for the delay in conducting his performance evaluation.

After its closed session, the board also approved a resolution with a glowing performance evaluation of Ford, indicating that the board wanted Ford to continue as CEO and that it hoped to have a new contract in place by the board’s next regular monthly meeting.

Whereas the AAATA board’s evaluation of CEO Michael Ford’s performance reflects his leadership, work ethic, and ability to motivate staff to work at a high level of public service during a challenging period of transitioning the AAATA;

Whereas Michael’s outreach to community leaders in Ann Arbor and surrounding communities has laid the foundation for the expansion of the authority to include Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township and for the newly expanded organization to do an improved job of providing high-quality transit services;

Whereas Michael has led the organization to a number of significant accomplishments during the previous and current fiscal years, including: continued growth in overall ridership; growth in the vanpool program; growth in AirRide ridership and a decrease in the cost of the service; a new collective bargaining agreement ratified by the members of the TW Local 171 and approved by our Board of Directors; launch of a new AAATA website with improved rider information, navigation and tools; construction of a new Blake Transit Center; development of a new five-year urban core transportation improvement plan and a successful millage proposal;

Therefore be it resolved that the AAATA Board of Directors recognizes Michael Ford’s performance and accomplishments and desires to continue his employment as CEO, and the board looks forward to working with Michael on a new contract to continue his employment and also working with him to improve transit services in our community. Our intent is to complete this contract the time of our next meeting.

Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, Ford told The Chronicle he’d just been notified of his selection as a finalist for the RTA job five minutes earlier. Responding to a question from The Chronicle, he said he’d apprised the board of his application for the RTA job and that was part of the closed session discussion. He stressed that he did not have the RTA job, that he enjoyed the work he was doing with the AAATA, and was very happy about what the AAATA had been able to accomplish. He noted that July 2014 will mark five years for him with the AAATA.

Before Ford was hired in 2009, one concern that some board members had was that his interview answers weren’t crisp. Asked by The Chronicle if he’d tried to become more “crisp” in the course of his time at the AAATA, Ford responded: “You have to be true to yourself,” adding that he felt there were times when being more direct was appropriate and that each situation needs to be navigated based on the particular setting.

Ford’s current contract with the AAATA calls for $160,000 in annual salary and a vehicle allowance that works out to just over $10,000 a year. [.pdf of Ford's employment contract] [Ford was awarded a raise subsequent to that contract at the board's Dec. 15, 2011 meeting, bringing his annual salary to $164,800.]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already on board The Chronicle bus, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. May 17, 2014 at 11:48 am | permalink

    The head of the bus sytem gets a company car? Is it covered in ad-wrap? If not, why not?

  2. By Donna Estabrook
    May 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm | permalink

    Ad-wrap – yes. But would that bring in $10,000 a year? Since $10,000 won’t buy much of a car I assume that this it all goes toward operating/maintaining the car. Pretty generous I would say.

  3. May 18, 2014 at 10:05 pm | permalink

    Re: [2]

    Average annual cost to own and operate a car for 15,000 miles, based on U.S. Dept. of Transportation stats for 2012, is around $9,100.

  4. May 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm | permalink

    It was reported on Twitter today that the RTA board voted unanimously to offer Ford the job.

  5. By Mary Morgan
    May 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm | permalink

    Here’s a link to the Crain’s Detroit report about Ford being offered the job: [link]