Pierce Transit board members Friday selected three finalists for chief executive officer — a public-sector job that draws a six-figure salary, is responsible for more than 800 employees and oversees more than 400,000 annual hours of transit service.
But the committee didn’t vote on the finalists by name, instead assigning them letters of the alphabet to protect their identities. Officials said Friday they wouldn’t release the individuals’ names, at least not yet.
What the officials did say is that none of the finalists works for Pierce Transit. All three are from out of state, said spokesman Justin Leighton; two are male and one is female.
A three-member committee of board members met in closed session Friday to interview candidates and discuss qualifications for the new CEO. Then the committee reconvened in public to move forward with three finalists.
On a 3-0 vote, the executive finance committee approved a motion “to invite candidates B, H and I for an interview with the full Board of Commissioners at a date to be determined ...”
Officials said the finalists’ names were being withheld for now out of respect for applicants who didn’t necessarily know up front that their executive job search would be made public.
“Because we know that employment applications are sensitive, the candidates were assigned a letter to protect their privacy,” said Deanne Jacobson, Pierce Transit’s board clerk and public records officer.
When asked by The News Tribune to provide the finalists’ names in compliance with the state Open Public Meetings Act, Jacobson said the agency would do so only after receiving a formal public records request. The newspaper filed it Friday afternoon; the agency said it would respond next week.
Transit Board Chairman Rick Talbert could not be reached for comment.
The CEO opening attracted 74 applications, Leighton said. A private search firm, Karras Consulting of Olympia, screened the applicants and brought forward nine candidates for consideration by the board’s executive finance committee, he said.
After two people dropped out, the committee spoke with the remaining seven candidates in two rounds of interviews that ended Friday, Leighton said.
The motion approved Friday promises that the three finalists will take part in some kind of undefined “employee/community stakeholder engagement process.”
This is not the first time a local government has anonymously selected finalists for a chief executive job in deference to candidates’ confidentiality. The Tacoma City Council tried a similar scheme in 2011 when it first assigned letters to its five finalists for city manager. It later changed plans under pressure from The News Tribune and voted for the finalists with their full names included.
Tacoma’s city attorney said at the time “concerns” about complying with the law ultimately drove the selection process to include finalists’ names.
Open government lawyers have previously told The News Tribune that they doubt that an anonymous selection process conforms with the law.
The state’s Open Meetings Act states “no governing body of a public agency at any meeting required to be open to the public shall vote by secret ballot.”
Pierce Transit is seeking to replace former director Lynne Griffith, who led the agency for eight years and left in September to become head of the state ferry system. She was paid a $169,097 salary at Pierce Transit.
The agency’s interim director is Jim Walton, a former Tacoma city manager.