The Regional Transportation District would pay its new CEO and general manager $315,000 a year under a five-year contract that’s up for board approval next week, according to a board member who released details to The Denver Post.
Members of the committee that negotiated Debra Johnson’s proposed contract decided against making the document — or even its major terms — public ahead of Tuesday’s expected vote by the Board of Directors. Director Natalie Menten, the most vocal critic of that decision, said she thought the information should be known by the public in advance of the meeting.
In recent days, fellow board members put pressure on Menten not to release any details. That is in keeping with the board’s longstanding practice of maintaining confidentiality for the terms of proposed contracts with past general managers until the final discussion and vote, and board members signed a non-disclosure agreement covering the CEO search and negotiations.
On Friday evening, Menten said other terms of Johnson’s compensation package would include RTD’s standard 9% employer pension contribution — worth about $28,000 a year — along with annual cost-of-living salary increases, moving expense reimbursement and access to a company vehicle. A severance clause would entitle Johnson to a year’s salary if RTD decided to terminate her without cause at any point during the contract term, Menten said.
Another term would give the board 120 days after Johnson’s start early in November to establish a performance evaluation program, including setting goals and metrics, that would make annual bonuses or merit raises possible.
The salary and financial terms are on par with RTD’s other recent top officials.
“I was told that I could be punished for releasing details before Tuesday’s vote,” said Menten, a fiscal hawk whose final term on the board will be up in a few months. “If the board chooses to censure me, I’d consider it a badge of honor. My duty to citizens comes first, and if I have to irritate a few politicians to accomplish transparency, that’s a very small price.”
Johnson, selected from among three candidates last month, worked most recently as deputy CEO for Long Beach Transit in Southern California.
The GM Executive Search Committee advanced the contract to the full board on a 7-1 vote Thursday afternoon, with Menten casting the sole “no” vote. The board has 15 members, elected by district, and they are poised to hire Johnson as the first woman to lead the agency.
After voting, several committee members — in response to Menten’s calls to make the contract public — reiterated that they considered it to be anything but final yet. But some said it was likely the major terms would be discussed in the open during Tuesday’s meeting, prior to the vote.
“What we are talking about right now is really a negotiation, which means you can never assume that it is perfect until it is signed by both parties, that’s the first thing,” board chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede said. “But secondarily, we did make a commitment to keep everything about this — until that negotiation was completed and signed — to be confidential. And we do have very, very sacred pieces on the table right now: trust and confidentiality. … You know, we are only as good as our word.”
The major terms were set by that point, however, and Menten suggested talk of an active negotiation was “just a delay tactic to keep it confidential until we vote.”
Menten said Johnson indicated during negotiations that if the board follows through this fall on approving salary cuts or furlough days for management employees — as is possible during budget discussions — she would voluntarily take part. Johnson also would be affected by a proposal to reduce the agency’s pension contribution percentage as RTD struggles to close a significant budget shortfall that also could result in more than 500 layoffs.
Johnson’s proposed salary exceeds the $299,000 final salary paid to Dave Genova, who retired as general manager and CEO in January, but is less than interim general manager Paul Ballard’s $350,000 salary. Unlike a permanent leader, though, Ballard has not received additional forms of compensation in his benefits package.