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Posted at 6:14 PM ET, 01/21/2011

Metro: Sarles is pick to be CEO, GM

By Ashley Halsey III and Ann Scott Tyson

6:05 p.m. Update: Metro released this statement: "The Metro Board of Directors has agreed upon Richard Sarles as Metro's new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager and will have more to say on this matter at its meeting on Jan. 27, at which time a vote will be taken."

Original post: Gov. Martin O'Malley told WTOP radio Friday morning that Richard Sarles, the current interim Metro general manager, is the top choice of the board of directors to lead the transit authority permanently.

Sean Adamec, O'Malley's spokesman, confirmed the governor's account and said the governor endorses the choice.

A second source close to the Metro board told The Washington Post that Sarles is the No. 1 pick for the job.

"There is a large amount of support for Sarles," the source said.

Metro has been negotiating a contract with its top choice to become the new permanent general manager of the transit authority. Board members reached a decision over the weekend after interviewing three finalists but had declined to name their pick. The board still needs to conduct a final vote on the decision.

"I'm still stuck in the same place and can't say anything at this time," Peter Benjamin, the chairman of Metro's board of directors, said Friday morning. "There are still issues to deal with. I don't want to degrade from anything the governor has said, but there are still things that have to be done, and that's not just the formality of having a press conference. The sooner we can do those things and make an announcement the happier I'll be."

Officials hope to announce the appointment at a board of directors meeting Jan. 27, board members said earlier this week.

"The board has in mind who the next general manager will be, and we have begun to talk about a contract with that person," board member Jeff McKay told Ann Scott Tyson earlier this week. "All three people interviewed did a good job."

Sarles, who is 65 according to to his Metro biography, joined the agency in late March at a salary of $25,000 a month to replace John B. Catoe Jr. who resigned abruptly a year ago. Metro had been besieged by safety problem in the wake of the June 2009 Red Line crash and Catoe said he hoped to give the agency a fresh start.

Sarles is the former head of New Jersey Transit, a post he retired from in January 2010. He has also worked for Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Sarles holds a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Cooper Union and an MBA from Rutgers University.

If confirmed by the Metro board in a final vote, he inherits a transit agency with a lengthy list of woes. It has been been plagued by funding problems and was criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board for fostering a culture that made the deadly Red Line crash "inevitable." The agency also faces a shortage of billions in long-term capital funding needed to upgrade the system and expand its capacity to meet the region's growing need for transit. Last year the agency implemented the most expansive fare increase in its history to cover an operating deficit of $190 million.

However, Deborah A.P. Hersman praised Metro's response to its report on the crash.

"We are very heartened by their commitment," Hersman said in September during a public meeting that was reviewing Metro's governing structure.

Several board members, including three on the search committee, recently said Sarles has exceeded their expectations.

"He's been very influential in getting hold of the place and more than stabilizing it but dealing with some longer-term issues," said Mortimer Downey, a federally appointed board member who is on the search committee. Downey, a veteran transit expert, has known Sarles for more than 30 years and took his name to the board as a candidate for the interim job.

As Metro plots its way forward, it is in the middle of a dramatic shift in leadership. Eight of the 14 current positions on the board of directors are turning over; some top jobs remain vacant; and officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia have been exploring changes in its governance in the wake of recent reports critical of its structure.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said he has not talked directly to Sarles.

"From what I understand, he has done a great job in the interim," he said. "He has a wonderful background. We need somebody who really has the confidence of people in governance."

Gray said it was his understanding that Sarles was not intially interested in staying on a permanent basis but the change in Metro's structure "made him give more serious thought to it."

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said through a spokesman that he is pleased that Sarles has been selected as the new Metro general manager and that he will "provide strong leadership and stability to this important organization. "

"We have enjoyed a good working relationship with him and are noticing significant improvements being made in Metro under Mr. Sarles leadership," McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said. "We look forward to a long-term relationship that will allow us to continue to address Virginia's interests in this important regional transit partner."

Staff writers Anita Kumar and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

By Ashley Halsey III and Ann Scott Tyson  | January 21, 2011; 6:14 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

BOOOO!

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

This is terrible news for riders.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 21, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

This is a shame. For all the alleged stability and long-term issues he's supposedly addressed, Metro simply hasn't improved in the past year. The only possible argument you could make in its favor is, "no one died", and we have to balance that against "but every rider is now being treated as a terroristic threat."

Posted by: DragonofAnger | January 21, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

He's probably retiring again in a couple of years. He is already a lame duck.

Terrible waste of resources to search for this long and do nothing.

Posted by: Cletus_P | January 21, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Huh...when Sarles was first brought on last spring, it was widely reported there was no interest on either his part or WMATA's part regarding him staying on as the full-time GM. What a crock...

Posted by: thepostischeap | January 22, 2011 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Jesus people. How would you feel if people said that about you at your new job? He obviously knows what he is doing but first had to stabilize things, gain people's trust and respect and tackle issues without shaking things up so much that something falls apart.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | January 22, 2011 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I have noticed, over the past few months, that Metro railcars are not just dirty, on the outside, they are grungy....
Since many tourists ride our subway, couldn't Metro do a better job....

Posted by: cstrauss100 | January 22, 2011 9:27 AM | Report abuse

@SusanMarie2: How can you claim he hasn't 'shaken things up so much that something falls apart' after the random-search implementation? If after a year in my job, all I succeeded in doing was alienating the customer base without bringing any improvement to the behavior and quality of the service, I'd be fired, not brought on permanently.

Posted by: DragonofAnger | January 22, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Ashley and Ann write: "As Metro plots its way forward, it is in the middle of a dramatic shift in leadership."

That must be a typo.

What they meant to say was "As Metro plods its way forward...

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | January 22, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse

At least it's not Nat Brown.

Posted by: Virginiadude1 | January 22, 2011 9:25 PM | Report abuse

At least it's not Nat Ford.

Posted by: Virginiadude1 | January 22, 2011 9:26 PM | Report abuse

DragonofAnger, there was more security at National Gallery of Art where, along with all the other museums in DC, everyone has to open their bag or purse for a quick inspection upon entrance. To me a visible security presence was one thing that was seriously lacking on Metro before they put in the teams. It is a high value target for a terrorist attack.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | January 23, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Avoiding future fare increases and at least pretending to care about objections to the bag search policy would be good steps from here, Mr. Sarles.

Posted by: matt731 | January 24, 2011 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Avoiding future fare increases and at least pretending to care about objections to the bag search policy would be good steps from here, Mr. Sarles.

Posted by: matt731 | January 24, 2011 12:52 AM | Report abuse

Can't be any worse than Catoe. Or can he?

Posted by: BMoreChil | January 24, 2011 7:15 AM | Report abuse

@SusanMarie2: You note the largest difference in your post. You said: EVERYone had to present their bag for inspection. That's a far cry from 'a few random people at a few random stations'. The policy Metro has instituted has no chance of catching and minimal chance of deterring any terrorist; all they have to do is go to a different station a short walk away.

Posted by: DragonofAnger | January 24, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

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