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LTD board accepts resignation of embattled general manager.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

The board of the Lane Transit District accepted the resignation of its general manager Friday, capping a tumultuous period during which workers increasingly challenged his leadership and clashed with management over work contracts and how the district is run.

Ken Hamm, in his sixth year at the agency's helm, said last month that he had no intention of leaving LTD despite widespread criticism by workers. But he submitted a letter Friday offering to resign no later than March 3. The board accepted it unanimously.

"It has become apparent that making a leadership change might be in the board's and my best interests," Hamm said, reading from the letter earlier in the day.

Hamm's resignation comes at the end of a bruising year for the county's public transportation service.

In March, bus drivers went on a weeklong strike over an unresolved employment contract - the first strike in LTD's 35 years. One hundred sixty-four union workers of LTD's 300 or so employees later signed a petition stating they lacked confidence in Hamm. A consultant then found the sentiment to be widely held by nonmanagement workers in the administrative, operations and maintenance departments.

After Friday's vote, board President Gerry Gaydos declined to address specifics of Hamm's tenure but said LTD is wrestling with internal problems of "trust, accountability and communication" that extend beyond the general manager.

"We can't say that's all Ken Hamm," Gaydos said. "Those are the serious issues that need to be addressed."

Hamm's departure is "a total surprise" to the union, said bus driver Walt Boynton, an officer with Amalgamated Transit Union No. 757. The union represents about 230 bus drivers and other employees.

Boynton, too, would not discuss Hamm's service. But he stressed that union officers were not the catalysts for the petition submitted earlier this year - it was "something that was done by employees on their own," he said.

Hamm presided over LTD against a backdrop during which the rising cost of health care is a growing challenge for public and private employers as they negotiate new labor contracts and try to shift more of the cost to workers.

He also inherited the task of helping bring to life a $24 million streamlined bus service between downtown Eugene and downtown Springfield - called EmX - scheduled to start late next year.

Hamm would not comment after the vote. In his letter, he credited the district for a number of successes including a strong financial picture, EmX, the new Springfield station and the opening of a RideSource facility, which is meant to better serve senior citizens and people with disabilities.

"Jointly, we have accomplished much, especially in working with other local jurisdictions, getting support for LTD programs and projects, and providing support for their projects," Hamm wrote in the letter.

Gaydos praised Hamm for keeping EmX on track and overseeing the construction of Springfield's new downtown station. But workers have criticized Hamm and the board for those same priorities, arguing that the district has shifted its focus from employees and riders.

"I felt like he's put too much emphasis on EmX and capital improvements like the Springfield station" and not enough on service to riders, bus driver Obediah Wilson said.

Many people in the Eugene-Springfield area are committed to "humanitarian services," Wilson said - attention to the elderly and youth, the poor and those in need - and "that's what (LTD) service should be about," he added.

Hamm's salary was $121,000 last year, and the severance package that he proposed would cost about $117,000 - about $8,000 above the severance terms in his contract, officials said.

But before the vote, LTD attorney Roger Saydack called Hamm's terms "reasonable and realistic" for executive packages.

The board now turns to the task of finding an interim general manager, and coordinating the transition from Hamm to his replacement.

Officials said a national search for a long-term general manager could take six to nine months, and that next September probably would be the earliest that a successor is named.
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Title Annotation:Transportation; Ken Hamm has faced widespread criticism from transit workers
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 3, 2005
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