Politics & Government

Pierce Transit CEO Lynne Griffith to lead state ferry system

Lynne Griffith, who announced in July she would retire as Pierce Transit’s CEO at the end of the year, was named Wednesday as the head of the state ferry system.

Griffith, 64, will now leave the transit system three months earlier and move to the ferry system. Her tentative starting date there is Oct. 6.

Vice chairman Steve Vermillion said the Pierce Transit board will meet next week to discuss appointing an interim CEO.

“Obviously, there will be an interim,” Vermillion said.

The board isn’t expected to select a new CEO until April, after conducting a national search.

Griffith will be the first woman to lead the ferries division of the state Department of Transportation.

She said she was excited about leading “a pretty iconic element of the transportation system.

“The ferries is a people-moving business,” she said in an interview. “I understand that business.”

Griffith explained her decision to take the job in an email to Pierce Transit employees Wednesday.

“Although my intent was to retire, travel and enjoy my family in Georgia, I can’t resist the challenge that is being afforded me,” Griffith wrote.

State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson announced the appointment.

“Our ferry system is an iconic symbol of the state of Washington and a vital link in our statewide transportation system,” Peterson said in a statement. “It will be in good hands with Assistant Secretary Griffith.”

Griffith has led Pierce Transit through growth and cutbacks over the past eight years, including two attempts at sales tax increases that voters rejected during the recession. Sales tax revenue has been on the rise since the beginning of 2013, and some services have been added.

In May 2013, when a major cutback was still planned, Pierce Transit’s union for drivers, mechanics and other workers voted no confidence in Griffith.

She has more than 35 years’ experience in transit, rail and airlines transportation but no maritime experience. With 1,700 employees, the ferry system has about twice as many employees as Pierce Transit.

The state had been searching for a new ferry system director since David Moseley resigned in April.

Griffith was approached about the job as head of the ferry system during the state Department of Transportation’s first recruitment round, spokesman Lars Erickson said.

Griffith decided not to apply. She explained Wednesday that she intended to stay another year at Pierce Transit, through the end of her contract.

Peterson decided in June to restart the search after the interim director, Capt. George Capacci, withdrew from consideration and she decided not to hire the other finalist, former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.

Griffith again was approached about the job after she had announced her retirement from Pierce Transit, Erickson said.

“I gave that some thought and decided to throw my name into the hat,” Griffith said. “I’m not ready to become a lady of leisure.”

Griffith will take a cut in pay at her new job, earning $144,768 annually at the ferry system, compared with $169,097 at Pierce Transit.

Operations haven’t gone smoothly for the ferry system this summer.

Last month, a ferry had to return to the dock at Bremerton after the captain realized crews had allowed an extra 484 people onboard, many of them Seattle Seahawks fans on their way to an exhibition game.

The ferry Tacoma broke down July 29 with more than 400 people onboard and is expected to be out of service until at least December.

When that happened, Griffith said she thought, “They need somebody with operations background.”

Griffith said recent problems with the ferry system need to be looked at.

“People have a tendency to forget everything that’s working,” she said. “You don’t hear about the 160,000 plus (annual sailings) that did go right.”

Vermillion, with Pierce Transit’s board, said Griffith’s new job will require the commissioners to select an interim CEO sooner than expected.

Vermillion said he had no idea Griffith was taking a new job until she told him before Monday’s board meeting.

“I’m not upset,” said Vermillion, a Puyallup city councilman. “People have opportunities presented to them at different times.”

Vermillion said Griffith has the qualifications to handle the job.

“I think she’s got her work cut out for her,” he said.

“It’s not something I would do,” he said. “If I was going to take my beatings, I would take them at Pierce Transit, where I was on solid ground.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

The Associated Press contributed to this report.