Sound Transit will pay its new chief executive $298,000 this year and put about $24,000 toward retirement savings.
And he’ll get a free ORCA card.
Peter Rogoff left his old job directing the Federal Transit Administration to dive into Seattle’s transit challenges last week. The renewable three-year contract, which includes an “attention and effort” clause, was unanimously approved by local elected officials on the transit board in December.
In return for the pay, he’s expected to spend nearly every waking hour pondering what could become a $20 billion ballot measure this fall, along with how to build and operate the voter-approved 50-mile light-rail network, plus express buses and commuter trains.
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“He’ll work morning, noon and night,” said transit spokesman Geoff Patrick last week. “So far, this week, he’s one of the first to arrive in the morning and definitely the last to leave at night.”
Rogoff’s pay is similar to that of peers in other cities, said Dennis Karras, whose Olympia-based consulting firm sifted through 190 applications to replace retiring CEO Joni Earl.
Rogoff’s counterpart in Dallas makes $300,000 a year, Karras said. Denver’s transit agency CEO gets $316,250 annually, while Philadelphia’s earns $286,000, Karras said.
Closer to home, Neil McFarlane at Portland Tri-Met is paid $229,000 a year, but retirement and vacation benefits boost the total to $260,000, an analysis by The Oregonian found. In Los Angeles, with similar tax rates and expansion dreams as Seattle, LA Metro is paying Phil Washington about $347,000, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Sound Transit is paying Rogoff far more than the $179,700 he earned from the federal government in 2014, based on numbers from fedsdatacenter.com. But with 29 years of relevant experience, he could have commanded higher rates in the private sector, Patrick said.
“It is, I think, somewhat favorable to us in terms of … what people are being compensated for similar positions and similar agencies, but I believe we have a candidate who is eager to come here and get to work,” Sound Transit Chairman Dow Constantine, the King County executive, said before the contract vote Dec. 14.
Sound Transit’s contract specifically says Rogoff will receive an ORCA card, a perk also given to all 745 agency employees.
What’s unusual, for the chief of a big institution, is that Rogoff declined an automobile stipend.
“He didn’t think it would be a good example to set, to receive a car allowance,” Karras said. “He wants to depend on public transit as much as possible.”
Rogoff is temporarily staying with friends in Northeast Seattle, so it’s unclear which transit lines he’ll use. His family will wait several months to relocate from Washington, D.C., Karras said.
His predecessor, Joni Earl, frequently rode Sounder commuter trains from Tacoma into Seattle, but also used buses or a car for evening travel, a byproduct of her extreme work schedule.
Earl, a graduate of Washington State University, is widely praised for her diplomatic skills, and for rescuing the agency after a fiscal crisis. She has been sidelined by a brain injury since April 2014, and is on unpaid medical leave, replaced by interim CEO Mike Harbour.
Earl would have earned $253,000 last year at full duty. Over the years she occasionally skipped annual raises, including one during the recession. Earl holds the title CEO emeritus and will retire in March, when the new U-Link tunnel opens connecting Westlake Station, Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium.
Other provisions of Rogoff’s contract include:
• Annual raises of 5 percent, plus an additional 10 percent for performance, at the discretion of the transit board.
• 30 days yearly paid vacation, and 12 days paid sick leave.
• Reimbursed moving expenses of up to $20,000 this year and $20,000 next year.
• A $250 monthly allowance to cover incidental costs, such as work-related meals during local trips.
• Binding arbitration in the event of contract disputes.
• A “nondisparagement” clause, in which neither Rogoff nor the transit board will speak ill of each other.