Politics & Government

Pierce Transit board picks retired Tacoma City Manager Jim Walton as interim CEO

Pierce Transit’s board selected former Tacoma City Manager Jim Walton on Monday night as interim CEO.

The board picked Walton after voting to waive CEO Lynne Griffith’s 75-day resignation notice requirement of her contract so she can start work Sept. 23 as director of the state ferry system.

Tacoma Mayor and board member Marilyn Strickland said she expects Walton to start Sept. 23, pending negotiations. He could be interim chief executive officer from three months to a year, depending on how long it takes to find a permanent CEO, she said.

Strickland and other board members praised Walton for his leadership with the City of Tacoma after police Chief David Brame killed his wife and himself in 2003.

“This is really about bringing in someone, I think, who has no baggage, who has experience at the CEO level and has led an organization through a very tumultuous time,” Strickland said.

Walton was Tacoma city manager — first as an interim — from 2003 to 2005 before retiring. Prior to that, he had been assistant city manager and deputy city manager.

Walton, 75, said Strickland asked him if he would be interested in the interim post when the two saw each other in the parking lot of a Tacoma grocery store over a week ago.

“I was coming out and she was coming in,” he said.

Strickland told him Griffith would be leaving sooner than expected, he said.

“I thought about it and I prayed about it,” Walton said. “It wasn’t something I was looking for.

“It was just an opportunity to be of service during what I hope will be a short tenure during the search,” Walton said.

He expects to lead the agency and perform all the duties of a CEO before returning to retirement.

“I certainly expect to be the CEO and everything associated with that during this time,” Walton said in a phone interview. “Otherwise, I would not have taken the position.”

At the board meeting, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy described Walton as a steady, calming influence.

Board Chairman Rick Talbert agreed.

Talbert was a Tacoma City Council member who voted to hire Walton as permanent city manager after his predecessor, Ray Corpuz, was fired in the wake of the Brame scandal.

“Jim is also very forthright and is driven in terms of getting the things that need to be accomplished done,” said Talbert, a Pierce County councilman.

Vice Chairman Steve Vermillion said hiring an outside interim wasn’t a sign of a lack of faith in Pierce Transit’s top administrators. Instead, it will allow them to focus on their jobs during the transition, Vermillion said.

Griffith’s ramped-up departure pressed the board into picking an interim.

The 64-year-old Griffith, who has led Pierce Transit since 2006, announced in July she would be retiring at the end of this year.

But on Wednesday, she was named as the head of the state ferry system.

Her tentative starting date was Oct. 6. But Griffith told the board Monday night that Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson had asked her to start Sept. 23 because of leadership vacancies at the ferry system.

Griffith said last week she was excited about leading “a pretty iconic element of the transportation system.”

After an executive session, board members agreed Monday night to release Griffith from her 75-day notice requirement.

They required her to work through her last day Monday without leave, unless approved by a board committee. Griffith must also cooperate if the board needs to consult with her through the end of the year.

Board members praised Griffith Monday night for her leadership during times of growth, cutbacks and renewed stability at Pierce Transit

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.

She will continue under the same state pension system at the ferries division as at Pierce Transit, Department of Transportation spokesman Lars Erickson said. That system is the Public Employees’ Retirement System.