Tuesday, Denton County Transportation Authority officially accepted the resignation of president Jim Cline and appointed chief operating officer Raymond Suarez as his replacement.
News broke last week that Cline was out as DCTA president. The transit authority’s official statement until Friday Aug. 31 was that the board of directors had not yet made a decision. Then, the authority published a release that Cline was resigning and setting an emergency board meeting for Sept. 4. The board took more than an hour in closed session to negotiate Cline’s severance package, with a lawyer moving back and forth between the boardroom and Cline’s office several times. The board took a further 45 minutes to hire Suarez.
Suarez has worked with DCTA for four years, and has an extensive history with transportation services, particularly in the DFW area. He served as the chief administrative officer for the Trinity Railway Express, which connects Fort Worth to Dallas, and has held leadership positions in Trinity Metro and DART during a 30-year career with transportation services. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas Wesleyan University.
Suarez said he would continue to enact the board’s long-term plan and supported their ideas to increase ridership, such as the fare discount enacted just last week. He also said he had further ideas to increase ridership that he wanted to discuss with the board.
Cline’s resignation is effective Sept. 13, and Suarez is hired effective Sept. 14.
“I believe DCTA is doing a lot of great things working with member cities. We have a lot of economic or transit-oriented development around our stations that are already planned,” Suarez said. “But I do have some ideas and thoughts about how to improve ridership. We’ve been working as a great team together, this existing DCTA staff, and I believe that in 2019, some of the changes that we’re making … we’ll see ridership grow.”
Cline had been the DCTA president since March 2010. Neither he nor other DCTA staff have spoken publicly to a cause for his resignation. Cline’s severance agreement contains a clause forbidding both he and DCTA from disparaging each other, as well as a clause waiving his right to sue.
Cline’s severance agreement is similar to the conditions under which he could be terminated without cause under his employment contract, indicating that his resignation was forced by DCTA. According to his employment contract, DCTA could terminate Cline with 30 days notice and would agree to pay his base salary and health insurance benefits for six months.
In the severance agreement signed Sept. 4, Cline agreed to waive the 30 day notice and accepted seven months of his base salary and health insurance benefits, in addition to a $10,000 annual bonus. Cline’s base salary was $229,000. His employment contracts also state that he would not be owed severance pay if he were were fired for some kind of breach of contract or resigned of his own accord.
DCTA has been struggling in recent years. In his presentation to the Lewisville City Council in April, Cline said the agency had been having difficulty increasing train ridership and competing with consistently low gas prices. At the transportation authority’s most recent regular meeting Aug. 23, several union leaders spoke to the board with grievances about bullying, owed back pay, not allowing bathroom or lunch breaks and bad-faith negotiations.
Only a small part of DCTA’s funding comes from rider fares. The lion’s share of its money comes from sales taxes from its three member cities — Lewisville, Highland Village and Denton. All three cities have representatives on its board of directors, but so do other cities like Flower Mound.
Despite DCTA’s struggles and seemingly sudden change in leadership, Charles Emery, board chairman and Lewisville representative who has been with DCTA for 17 years, said the authority would not make significant changes to its plans.
“It’s going to stay on course,” Emery said. “We’re going to continue with the plans the board has put in place. I mean, it’s business as usual.”