Dr. Gridlock: O'Malley says Metro's interim manager is top pick for permanent job

By Ashley Halsey III and Ann Scott Tyson
Friday, January 21, 2011; 12:28 PM

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.

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