FACT CHECK: KOIN Part 2

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We welcome public and media attention regarding all matters related to TriMet. Being transparent helps the public understand the direction and priorities of the agency. As we move a small city every day – providing some 308,000 rides –  we understand how critical our service is to the community. At the same time, some of the statements made by the media and public can contain inaccurate information about TriMet. We will “fact check” any communication that misstates the facts.

KOIN: TriMet Salary Investigation – Part 2

KOIN TV aired a two-part story on TriMet that contained errors. Read the fact check on part one of the story. Here, we fact check part two.

Claim: “TriMet’s Director of Legal Services getting a 51% boost in pay; a Deputy General Counsel receiving a 33% raise and a civil construction manager receiving a 22% boost in salary. Where did the money come from?”

Fact: There’s always more to the story than just the figures.

  • TriMet’s Director of Legal Services went from part-time to full-time, was promoted to a different job and received a 2.5 percent merit increase.
  • A Deputy General Counsel went from full-time to part-time and then back again to full-time. Overall, no real change to the salary for this position.
  • The civil construction manager received a promotion and is in charge of construction of the $134 million light rail bridge being built over the Willamette River as part of the $1.49 billion Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project.

Fact: Concerning the source of the money, the salary increases for all General Fund employees – those not working on the light rail project – are funded through the agency’s contingency funds. It’s standard practice and in compliance with Oregon Budget Law for yet to be determined wage increases to be budgeted in contingency.

The promotions and salary increases for Capital Projects staff, those working on the rail project, are initially funded through the contingency funds, but then the agency is fully reimbursed by project funds. Again, project funds are restricted to the project and cannot be used to restore service or reduce fares. We’re the first to admit that TriMet budget is complex and requires some additional context to understand the numbers.

Claim: “TriMet lacks a permanent citizen oversight or advisory committee that almost every other major transit agency has.”

Fact: TriMet was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1969. The Governor appoints the seven members of the TriMet Board of Directors and the Senate confirms their appointment. These are dedicated citizen volunteers who bring their expertise to overseeing the activities of the transit agency. The Board also has a citizen committee reporting to it – the Committee on Accessible Transportation – that provides guidance and direction on issues related to elderly and riders with disabilities. TriMet has other citizen committees, including a Safety Education Advisory Committee and, more recently, the Transit Equity and Access Advisory Committee. Plus, all rail construction projects have multiple citizen committees that also include local residents and elected leaders from the jurisdictions where the line is being built.

Claim: “It’s true [that TriMet general Manager Neil McFarlane] can’t give himself a raise. But he did recommend a raise and the TriMet board approved it.”

Fact: Neil McFarlane did not recommend a raise. The head of Labor Relations and Human Resources provided comparable salary data to the Board of Directors and the board decided and approved the 3 percent raise. McFarlane did not have a salary increase the previous year.

Claim: “Records given to KOIN news by TriMet show at least 70 TriMet executives and managers making salaries above $100,000. A similar search reveals just 51 Denver managers making 6-figure salaries.”

Fact: TriMet actually has 49 non-union general fund employees with salaries above $100,000, more than half include the following positions: GM, 7 Executive Directors, 15 IT professionals, 6 attorneys and 9 operations management. This figure – 49 – should be the number directly compared with Denver’s 51 staff members earning more than $100,000.

There are 21 non-union TriMet employees that are funded through the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project that make more than $100,000. These jobs are highly skilled engineering and construction jobs that end with the project. The project funds are restricted to the project and cannot be used to restore service or reduce fares.

Claim: KOIN stands behind its description of comparing Denver’s 51 individuals earning six-figure salaries to TriMet’s 70 top earners.

Fact: While both agencies are expanding their rail systems, Denver contracts out all of the work to a consortium of companies. For our light rail expansion, TriMet is managing the design, building and operation all in-house. This is why it’s difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons of transit districts with just one metric.

We appreciate the effort of KOIN and other stakeholders asking questions about TriMet. We’re the first to admit we aren’t perfect and we are always in a state of continuous improvement. Looking ahead, as we realign our cost structure and with an improving economy, we’ll be able to begin restoring transit service that was cut during the recession. The need for more service is what we hear from our riders every day. In the months ahead, we look forward to talking with the community about where service restoration should happen first.