Metro Chief to Get a Towering Salary
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Metro's next general manager is expected to make $300,000 a year and receive a $60,000 living allowance, making him one of the region's highest-paid public officials. But John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday that he plans to commute by subway when he takes over the transit agency in January.
Metro officials confirmed the selection of Catoe, the second-ranking official of the Los Angeles transit system, to become the agency's eighth permanent general manager. He will oversee about 10,000 employees and a $1.2 billion annual operating budget.
The agency's announcement did not disclose Catoe's compensation. But Metro officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract hasn't been signed disclosed Catoe's salary. It will surpass what area school superintendents make (about $250,000 a year in major systems) and the $212,100 annual salary of Vice President Cheney.
Catoe's pay will also exceed what former general manager Richard A. White made. White, forced out in January, had a salary of $285,644 and a living allowance of $50,000. White's severance package included a $238,000 one-time payment and an annual pension of $116,000, more generous than those offered by several other transit agencies. Details of Catoe's severance package and other terms were not available yesterday.
Catoe, a D.C. native who has family in the area, said he plans to live in the District or Virginia. Asked yesterday whether he planned to use Metro, he replied: "Are you kidding me? . . . In this industry, the heads of transit need to use their own services, not just because of the public perception. They need to know what the public experiences." As head of the second-busiest subway and fifth-busiest bus fleet in the nation, Catoe will share a perk all his employees have: a free pass for unlimited travel on the system.
In the Los Angeles area, Catoe said, he commutes four days a week on Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus service, which he used to oversee.
Catoe, 59, a bus expert, has been second in command of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation's third-largest public transportation system, since 2001. His salary is $287,000.
Metro board Chairman Gladys Mack, who represents the District, said Catoe's "enthusiasm for customer service and his proven record of success in transit" qualify him as a leader to "meet the region's transit needs."
Board member Chris Zimmerman, who represents Virginia, said Catoe's background with transit issues in a diverse metropolitan area such as Los Angeles would serve him well in Washington.
"I especially like the fact that he's been an innovator on bus issues, and we need to make a lot of improvements," he said.
The board chose Catoe on Thursday in executive session. All five voting members who were present supported him, officials said.
The two parties have since worked out final terms of his compensation and retirement, Catoe said, but he declined to discuss specifics until he signs the contract. The board is scheduled to ratify the agreement tomorrow in executive session. Catoe is expected to travel from California to sign the papers.
In addition to his salary and living allowance, Catoe is likely to be provided a car, according to Metro officials.
Asked about the controversy surrounding White's departure, Catoe said: "I was very sensitive to the issues and criticism that the board got when Dick [White] left, and I didn't want to expose the board to that." As part of his salary package, Catoe said, he requested that he receive the same percentage pay increases as other nonunion employees. Those increases typically average 2 percent a year.
Catoe plans to meet with Metro employees, including frontline workers, tomorrow and Friday before returning to Los Angeles. He spoke highly of Dan Tangherlini, who made customer service a priority during his more than eight months as interim general manager. Catoe said he hopes to meet with him in early December. Tangherlini, who has been named city administrator by D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D), "did all the right things" in reaching out to riders and employees, Catoe said.
Catoe said he is eager to start his new job. He hopes to have 30-, 60- and 90-day plans for the agency when he begins early next year.
"I have the passion. I understand the issues. I understand that people aren't always going to have nice things to say about the system, but I believe in it, and I believe in the employees who do that work," he said.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.