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Introducing your TriMet Board of Directors

A review of the current members of the TriMet Board of Directors.

We’ve talked a lot about TriMet in the recent months, and we’ve talked quite a bit about GM Neil McFarlane, who has been in charge of the agency for over five months now. But we haven’t talked much about the seven folks that are collective Neil’s boss–the TriMet board of directors, other than as an abstract entity. (We discussed the prospect of the governor-elect replacing the board prior to the election). And we’ve discussed some of the legalities around the board–but the board members themselves are probably a mystery to most riders who aren’t political wonks.

A bit of summary details: TriMet has a seven-member board, who are appointed by the Governor to a maximum of two four-year terms, and subject to confirmation by the Oregon Senate. The board members serve at the governor’s pleasure, and may be sacked anytime; at which point the governor may name a replacement to fill out the remainder of the term (who also must be approved by the Senate). The position is unpaid.

And with that, a bit more (publicly relevant) information on the men and women who currently sit on the TriMet board, and who just voted (unanimously) to fund the first stages of Milwaukie MAX. It is entirely possible that this list will need rewriting in a month or two, when the new governor is sworn in; but for now, these are your Board of Directors.

Richard Van Beveren (president)

Richard Van Beveren is the president of the TriMet board, and represents Washington County. He was appointed to replace Dave Bolender in 2007, when Bolender moved away, and re-appointed to his own four year term in 2008. Beveren is a Hillsboro restaurateur and caterer, and had been involved in much transit planning prior to his appointment. According to the TriMet press release announcing his joining the board…

He participated in station-area planning for Westside MAX and on the citizen’s advisory committee for South Hillsboro. He also was a member of the Cornelius Pass Road Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP), and co-chaired the Citizens Campaign for the Washington County MSTIP. Van Beveren served as president and chair of the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, where he worked with Metro, TriMet, Washington County and Hillsboro City planning staff.

Van Beveren, a business administration graduate from Notre Dame, has also served in many other non-transit-related civic capacities.

Tiffany Sweitzer (vice-president)

Tiffany Sweitzer, a downtown Portland developer who is president of Hoyt Street Properties, represents District 2 (downtown, N, and NW Portland). She is the dean of the TriMet board, having been appointed in 2004. A University of Oregon graduate with a degree in psychology, Sweitzer is the stepdaughter of longtime Portland developer Homer Williams. Sweitzer is likely the board member with the most prominent public presence; she penned an editorial in the Oregonian defending some of the agency’s service cutbacks as necessary, and endorsing Measure 26-119.

Steve Clark

Steve Clark represents the “west side” (District 3), and has served since June of this year. He is president of the Portland Tribune newspaper (and the other “community newspapers” published by the Tribune), and according to his paper, “is active in statewide transportation and land-use issues. He was a member of Oregon’s Big Look Task Force. He also leads the Oregon Business Plan’s transportation initiative.” Clark lives in Tigard and seems to be the only member of the TriMet board of whom Jack Bogdanski has had anything nice to say.

Consuelo Saragoza

Consuelo Saragoza represents Southeast Portland (District 4), and along with Clark, is one of the newest members of the Board, being appointed in June of this year. She “is senior advisor to the Multnomah County Health Department’s Public Health & Community Initiatives and has held director-level positions with the Health Department since 2000.” Saragoza holds a Masters of Public Administration from CUNY, and is a regular TriMet rider.

Dr. T. Allen Bethel

Dr. T. Allen Bethel represents North/Northeast Portland (District 5), and was appointed to a new term in March of this year. Bethel is senior pastor of Maranatha Church of God, (since 1994), lives in Northeast Portland, and has “extensive experience with mass transit and public involvement with organizations and businesses in the Portland region and will work to ensure transit, project development and community involvement are all closely aligned.” He was also involved in the Big Dig project in Boston. Dr. Bethel has numerous degrees in religion and theology, including an honorary doctorate from Southern California School of Ministry.

Lynn Lehrbach

Lynn Lehrbach represents East Multnomah County (district 6), and was appointed to the board in 2008, replacing former (and disgraced) Multnomah County sheriff Bernie Giusto. He is a longtime labor activist with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters represent bus drivers in some jurisdictions and thus have an overlap in focus with Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents TriMet’s operators. The Teamsters also represent construction workers, which might represent a conflict of interest given TriMet’s involvement in capital projects–that said, Lehrbach is the only board member that the local Transit Riders Union seems to like. Lehrbach has been the biggest critic of Milwaukie MAX on the board, casting the lone vote to halt land purchases for the project.

Hakeem Olanrewaju

Hakeem Olanrewaju represents Clackamas County (District 7), and was appointed to a term starting in March of this year. A resident of Happy Valley, Olanrewaju is CFO of Regional Financial Services at Providence Health Systems, and previously worked for Farmers Life Insurance Co., Federal Home Loan Bank and Cascade Natural Gas Corp. . (He’s already been observed keeping a sharp eye on financial matters at the agency.). He holds a bachelor degree in business administration from Eastern Washington University and a MBA from Seattle University.

Thoughts

A couple things that I notice about the above, after googling them for this article.

  • There is a lot of inexperience on the board, with four of the seven having been appointed in the past year, and only one board member (Sweitzer) with four or more years of experience.
  • Some of the board members have transit planning experience–often as volunteers or activists; others have a land use background (and one–Sweitzer–is a developer). None of them seems to have much of a transit operations background, nor do any of them have extensive professional or educational expertise in transit. (Hey–I’m qualified! Not.) Only one appears to have any extensive background in finance or accounting. The backgrounds they do have (restaurant owner, developer, journalist/publisher, public administrator, minister, union organizer, accountant/CFO) are diverse–but is this the right mix?
  • Most importantly–is this group willing and able to challenge management of the agency if needed? (Obviously, many critics of TriMet would allege that this question has been answered with a resounding “No”). Recent board meetings on controversial subjects have produced many 7-0 or 6-1 decisions (most issues before boards of directors are routine, noncontroversial matters; but every once in a while a vote comes along which gets lots of folks up in arms–like yesterday). When former TriMet board president Loren Wyss tried to rein in former GM Tom Walsh in 1994, it was Walsh who swiftly had Wyss’ head served up on a platter. Whether or not govenor-elect John Kitzhaber would back the board or the GM in a dispute is unclear–that said, Walsh served as GM for four years during Kitzhaber’s first term as governor.

Discuss.