Observer: Get on with it already, Cuomo


It’s been a while since the MTA had any permanent leadership. Joe Lhota, the current mayoral candidate, vacated his position on the final day of 2012, and since then, leadership duties have been split between an interim board chair who doens’t want the job on a full-time basis and the current president of New York City Transit. With Sandy repair dollars flowing in, a union contract negotiation that’s stalled and a looming five-year capital plan that will soon require attention, now isn’t the time to let the MTA become an afterthought.

That, though, is what Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seemingly doing. Tasked with finding a replacement to head up the MTA, Cuomo has made no overtures to the usual suspects, and now, outside observers are starting to take note. In today’s Observer, the paper’s editorial board calls upon Cuomo to do something about it already. With no search committee in place, it seems as though Cuomo, the paper says, “has shown little interest in finding a new chair for the MTA in a timely manner.” The governor’s office says otherwise, but actions speak louder than words. Right now, there are no actions.

The Observer makes a compelling case for movement on the MTA:

Mr. Cuomo has had his hands full since Superstorm Sandy, but the leadership of the MTA is no small matter. The agency will soon begin to spend nearly $5 billion in federal recovery dollars in Sandy’s aftermath, so priorities—and oversight—must be established. The MTA’s largest union, Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union, has been working without a contract for more than a year, and there have been no talks in four months.

Mr. Cuomo has been down this road before. He allowed vacancies on the board of the Long Island Power Authority to pile up—there were six slots awaiting his action when Sandy hit in late October. The agency’s acting CEO was filling in until Mr. Cuomo appointed a new, permanent chief. LIPA’s scandalously slow response to Sandy’s aftermath was the result of lethargic leadership and absent oversight.

Inaction can have consequences. While the MTA’s customers may not notice the agency’s leadership void at the moment, it’s just a matter of time. The MTA needs permanent leadership. Mr. Cuomo should put together a search committee consisting of all interested parties and get the process moving. This is one delay commuters shouldn’t have to endure.

The fares are going up this weekend. Complaints will rise. No one is in charge. While burning through more than a handful of various CEOs, Chairmen and Executive Directors since 2006, the MTA has been subjected to the ever-shifting whims of the men and women who have served atop the organization. It is time for Cuomo to find a successor and one who will stick with it for more than a year at a time.

Categories : MTA Politics

28 Responses to “Observer: Get on with it already, Cuomo”

  1. BrooklynBus says:

    I rally had no idea that he hadn’t even appointed a search committee. There really is no excuse for that. And the contract needs to include a penalty provision if the Chairman vacates for other than health reasons or extenuating personal circumstances. We can’t keep having revolving chairment who leave whenever they find a better personal opportunity.

  2. g says:

    It comes down to finding someone who wants to actually run the MTA for a good while, not just use it as a stepping stone to the next job. You could probably restructure the compensation to at least encourage a minimum term.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      You are the lawyer. You would know better than me. It was just a suggestion.

      I was thinking of some sort of financial penalty. Isn’t that common in entertainment contracts? You always hear of stories how big name entertainers break their contract for example by quitting a series mid-run. I thought they suffer financial penalties for doing so? Please explain the difference between those types of contracts and personal services contracts?

      • So essentially, you can’t do anything in a contract with an individual that restricts that individual’s freedom in just about any way. Limited non-compete provisions are acceptable, but you can’t bar anyone hired for the job from leaving.

        The best solution would be either performance bonuses or a sliding salary scale that sees amounts paid increased over years in the job. It’s not ideal.

        Ultimately, finding someone to stick around should involve a commitment to transit from the state and city as well.

        • BrooklynBus says:

          Thanks, but you really didn’t answer my question why it is different from entertainment contracts where performers are committed for a certain length of time, or do those contracts not provide penalties either if someone just decides to leave early? I thought they did.

          If we go your route, then payment for the initial year or two should be lowered. I don’t agree with providing bonuses just for someone doing the job he is getting paid for anyway.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I figured public service bonuses like these are illegal in the first place, but I’m still not sure (Ben?). They do make sense in this case. Like it or not, the MTA needs to compete with other enterprises for that managerial talent, and is at a disadvantage if it can’t compensate them. It’s not something I like either, but it’s reality.

            (You don’t see the TWU getting bonuses, do you? You see overtime and work rules in their favor, but performance bonuses are lacking.)

            What you’re talking about, where someone can’t leave, is an indentured service contract. It’s illegal, for good reason. As far as I know, the only thing kind of like it left in the USA is the military. As far as entertainment goes, there might be huge penalties in the form of foregone income and royalties, but I suspect almost everything lost in these cases is future income. The government even cracked down on no-pay internships now; AFAIK, the only way those are legal is for academic credit.

            • BrooklynBus says:

              I don’t know what to say. This whole thing about what is legal and what is illegal puzzles me. Why are contractor bonuses legal, if the contractor finishes ahead of schedule? Why should those be legal?

              Ben, could you shed some light on this?

              • Bolwerk says:

                Why wouldn’t they be legal? They fight the kind of graft that leads contractors to draw out work. If the public agency isn’t doing it wrong, the contract should explicitly state what that bonus is ahead of time – and what the penalty is for failing to complete the task on time.

                Also, contractors aren’t people (usually). They tend to be companies. They’re on the hook for following labor laws (e.g., no using indentured servants), same as the MTA.

                • BrooklynBus says:

                  I see no reason why they shouldn’t be legal. But I also see no reason why a personal services contract can’t have a financial penalty if the contractor doesn’t stay for the length of the contract either (with the exceptions I already stated. If the recipient guarantees the jobholder a job for a certain amount of years at a certain salary, it seems logical to me that the employer should get the same guarantee in return that the person will not leave for a better offer elsewhere.

                  Similar to a rental agreement, when the lease is broken because the tenant leaves before the term of the lease, there are penalties. In exchange for agreeing to stay the length of the term, the lessee is guaranteed the rent will not rise.

                  Why can’t personal services contracts work the same way? It seems so one-sided the way it currently is protecting only the employee.

                  What if an entertainer signs a three year agreement to perform in Las Vegas, and one year later, someone offers him a better contract to move his show to Branson, Missouri? Can he just pack up and leave, or must he first finish his three year agreement? I bet there are contract provisions prohibiting him from moving his show.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    But I also see no reason why a personal services contract can’t have a financial penalty if the contractor doesn’t stay for the length of the contract either (with the exceptions I already stated.

                    It can, but it can’t violate employment laws. Basically, employees need to be paid for the time they work. Nothing says they can’t have bonuses, royalties, stock options, etc. withheld if they don’t complete their contracts. Many higher income individuals make most of their money from things other than wages/salaries anyway.

                    A contractor is another matter. If he is getting a lump sum to complete a bunch of tasks, and quits halfway through, maybe he/she/it doesn’t get paid at all. But the employees working for that contractor need to be compensated by law.

                    What if an entertainer signs a three year agreement to perform in Las Vegas, and one year later, someone offers him a better contract to move his show to Branson, Missouri? Can he just pack up and leave, or must he first finish his three year agreement? I bet there are contract provisions prohibiting him from moving his show.

                    Sure, but the short answer is, I doubt he has to give back wages for shows already performed. Perhaps he could be sued for damages for other reasons (e.g., violating a non-compete clause).

                    • BrooklynBus says:

                      I am not a lawyer of course and don’t know if you are or not and I do understand what you are saying. Perhaps it somehow could be worded in anorther way, perhaps somehow linking it to his pension which would have applied in Walder’s case.

                      When a contractor does not complete his contract in the stated period of time, there are liquidated damages. Technically he is not returning pay he has received, but he is required to return money.

                      Lawyers are smart. There must be a way to somehow to word it so that it does not violate any law. Why couldn’t his salary somehow be structured with some type of balloon payment he receives at the end when his term is complete and if it isn’t complete, he doesn’t get that final payment. Why couldn’t that work?

                      Yes, someone might not want to accept such a contract, but anyone with a serious committment for transit would, and that’s exactly the type of person we are looking for, not someone who will jump ship when offered a better opportunity or sees one for himself as the last two have done.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Employment law is fairly ironclad, because of historical abuses of workers.

                      Why couldn’t his salary somehow be structured with some type of balloon payment he receives at the end when his term is complete and if it isn’t complete, he doesn’t get that final payment. Why couldn’t that work?

                      I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. If it’s a bonus, that should be fine as far as employment law allows. I don’t think NYS public service law allows bonuses though, but that’s a specific problem with NYS public service law, not a general problem with U.S. employment law.

                      Could be wrong about this, but I think the major problem here is there is no way to lock someone in legally without the state legislature changing the law. The best Cuomo could get is a “cross my heart and hope to die,” which is of course not a legally binding contract. :-p

                    • BrooklynBus says:

                      Well then. maybe the state law needs to be changed and our legislators need to consider that.

  3. John-2 says:

    If the TWU really wanted to make Cuomo look bad, they could start making strike noises.

    One of the reasons for the creation of the MTA was because John Lindsay, had cold sweats at the thought of having to deal with the Ghost of Mike Quill after the 1966 strike fiasco, and was perfectly willing to give the subways and buses to Nelson Rockefeller. But Rocky wanted a layer of plausible deniability between himself and any future strike, which is where William Roman and the MTA board came in — any problems would be targeted at the MTA chair before it ever got to the governor.

    Not having an MTA chair, and not even looking for one, takes away that one degree of separation if things really go wrong. A strike, or some sort of major mass transit failure, will rebound past the empty MTA chair’s position and onto the governor. For someone planning not just a re-election run in 2014 but a run for the White House in 2016, Andrew’s playing a dangerous game of actually getting stuck with the responsibility for any near-term MTA problems. And having to take responsibility for something you’re supposed to be responsible for is no way to run for governor or president in the modern era…

    • BrooklynBus says:

      After how the union suffered so financially last time, I don’t think anyone would take any strike noises seriously. They just can’t afford another one.

    • Nathanael says:

      Andrew’s been a terrible governor. And his record of laziness and irresponsibility dates back at least to the debates, when he showed up late and then showed himself to be unprepared. (I am seriously regretting voting for him. I should have voted for the whore, who was prepared and competent.)

      Unfortunately, the TWU is not competent enough to realize that they can take down Cuomo. 😛

  4. nb8 says:

    The key is what sane, responsible, professional manager would want the job at this point? Whoever takes it is taking on a thankless job, constrained by massive debt, entrenched politics, limited revenues, and automatically blamed for everything by Albany, City Hall, the press, and the TWU.

    Jay Walder did a good as job as is humanly possible under the circumstances, but got nothing except grief for it. Anyone of his caliber is bound to in charge of a less hostile system, or will quickly be recruited to be. Is it any wonder there has been no permanent replacement?

    • BrooklynBus says:

      Some may like the challenge and if successful, they go down in history. David Gunn will always be remembered for bringing the system out from its worst times and the one responsible for ending grafitti. That is the exact type of peron we need now. Of course, help from the governor would make his job easier.

      • Alex C says:

        You can’t do what Gunn did if your capital funding is coming from taking on more debt and every politician in the state wants to slash your funding and then give you blame for the ensuing problems. As nb8 said, no sane person would take this job. It is one of the worst leadership positions in the country.

        • BrooklynBus says:

          Perhaps there is a logical reason why every politician in the state wants to slash your funding. Perhaps they do not believe you are spending your money wisely when you build new stations and in a few years the tile starts falling down because of water problems not being addressed or the new floor tile which looks like shit after a few years with concrete patches and mismatched tiles because you didn’t buy enough spares or because you decide to scrap perfectly good subway benches that just need a coat of paint.

          When I asked Assemblyman Colton why he voted for cutting the MTA’s budget, he responded,”Because no matter how much we give them, they waste it.”. If it is not true, why do so many believe that the MTA could do a better job with the money it gets? Walder was the first Chairman to even admit that te MTA could be more efficient and took steps to reduce unnecessary administrative positions. All the previous Chairmen stated that the MTA was as efficient as could be and was doing everything right. For saying what he did, Walder deserves a lot of credit.

          • Alex C says:

            Here is the real reason(s) politicians want to cut the MTA’s budget:
            1) They are from non-MTA counties and wrongly believe that NYC and its surrounding counties don’t benefit this otherwise broke state’s economy.


            2) They (like our governor) drive/get driven everywhere and literally couldn’t care less about public transit. They consider it a welfare program for the filthy poors, and as such, entirely irrelevant.

            3) The hot new trend: they hate the government and anything to do with the government and want to drown the MTA in a bathtub and abolish or privatize all public services.

            Walder did try and increase efficiency, as you mentioned. What was Albany’s response? The same “Two sets of books” bullshit, along with all the rest of their talking points about how evil the MTA is. There is no winning if you’re the CEO of the MTA. It’s an awful, thankless job where you get criticized by all sides at all times regardless of any facts, logic or common sense. You couldn’t pay anyone enough money to stick around for more than a year.

            • BrooklynBus says:

              You are probably correct in many of your points, but to imply that the MTA is just a completely innocent victim is also wrong. Why do they insist on needlessly antagonizing the union by issuing bulletins such as employees are only allowed ten minutes for a bathroom break when it takes some employees five minutes just to travel to the nearest bathroom?

              They should realize that when you treat your employees with respect and stop hassling them for needless reasons, they will get higher morale which results in more productivity from them. That means more efficiency. When an employee is upset with unfair rules, they will use those same rules to benefit themselves and harm the MTA.

              Better relations with the union also has other benefits such as easier contract negotiations, less bad publicity in the media, more of a willingness for the public to be on the same side as the MTA, which would result in politicians also supporting the MTA. Everything is related. Some of the problems the MTA has they cause themselves. I refuse to believe they are the innocent victim.

              • Alex C says:

                They’re not an innocent victim, but they’re certainly not the evil entity politicians make them out to be. They need to be more efficient, but efficiency won’t matter if the funding keeps getting cut and Cuomo keeps taking $100 million a year to pay for roads in Syracuse.

                • BrooklynBus says:

                  You’re right. It works both ways. They are not as evil as made out to be, but they have to stop doing things that hurt their image also. If they can gain more public support, it will be easier for them to get funding, and that will make the new chairman’s job that much easier. Everyone has to play a role or else we are all doomed. No one is completely innocent or completely guilty either.

                • Nathanael says:

                  Cuomo isn’t even managing to fund the extremely modest rail plans in Syracuse. And the mood in Syracuse is for highway teardowns, but Cuomo seems to be resistant to going along with it…

                  Road warrior….

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