Politics & Government

Pierce Transit has diverse CEO finalists: One private sector, one public

The number of finalists vying to run Pierce County’s public transit system has dropped from three to two, and the agency released their names and backgrounds Tuesday after withholding them last week.

One candidate for Pierce Transit chief executive has spent his career thus far in the corporate transportation world, mostly in California, “transforming companies into profitable, meaningful and valuable enterprises,” according to his résumé.

The second candidate worked her way through the ranks of public transit systems in Oregon, first employed as a bus driver for more than a decade and now as an executive.

The two finalists — Michael D. Griffus and Susan Dreier —will visit Tacoma for a Pierce Transit tour, meetings with staff and “a community stakeholder meeting at a date to be determined,” according to agency spokesman Justin Leighton.

The transit board is expected to vote on a new CEO the same day, Leighton said.

A committee of Pierce Transit board members voted for its three preferred CEO candidates Friday, but at first identified them only by letters of the alphabet to protect their privacy. On Tuesday, committee chairman Steve Vermillion said the field had narrowed.

“Of the three, one withdrew due after accepting another offer, leaving us with two highly qualified and diverse finalists — either one very capable of serving as the next Pierce Transit CEO,” Vermillion said.

The two finalists are:

After graduating from the University of Washington with a business administration degree, Griffus went on to work for transportation companies, including 15 years as an executive for Laidlaw Education Services, the largest school bus operator in the world.

Before that, Dreier rose through the ranks as a bus operator, supervisor and manager in the Lane Transit District in Eugene. During that time, she went back to school to earn a degree in business management at Northwest Christian University in Eugene.

Vermillion said the Pierce Transit committee and a private consultant did an extensive search and interview process before settling on its three preferred candidates Friday. The News Tribune pressed the agency to release all three names immediately to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Vermillion said no laws were broken. He said officials waited four days after the vote in order to give the favored candidates a chance to be publicly identified as finalists or else pull out of the competition.

“People at this level are very protective of themselves in exploring other opportunities, not only to preserve their reputation but also protect their current employment status,” Vermillion wrote in an email.

Pierce Transit’s CEO oversees about 880 employees and more than 400,000 annual hours of transit service. The agency is seeking to replace former director Lynne Griffith, who led the agency for eight years and was paid a $169,097 salary.

The interim director is Jim Walton, a former Tacoma city manager.