Island Transit hires Graska as interim chief

Island Transit’s interim director will begin his six-month stint no later than Dec. 15.

The transit board approved a contract, in a 4-1 vote, to hire Kenneth Graska as the temporary chief in a meeting Friday marked by a strange little game of musical chairs. Both Oak Harbor Councilman Joel Servatius and Mayor Scott Dudley showed up to represent the city on the board, causing some confusion and tension.

“I don’t know why you chose to make a spectacle of it,” Servatius said to the mayor before agreeing to bow out.

“I’m not the one who is,” Dudley countered.

Under the negotiated agreement, Graska will be a contract employee and earn $62.50 an hour. He will also receive a housing allowance of up to $1,350 a month, a car allowance of up to $400 a month and an airfare allowance of up to $350 a month.

After lengthy discussions about the budget Friday, the board went into executive session to discuss the proposed contract with Graska.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a member of the transit board, said the members were aware of Graska’s history in Snohomish County, where he resigned as director of Community Transit in the midst of a bribery scandal. He was never implicated in wrongdoing, but an audit harshly criticized his management style as “autocratic and intimidating,” according to a 1993 story in the Everett Herald.

Friday, Price Johnson said Graska was open with the board members about his history in Snohomish County. She said they checked his references and did a background check.

Both Price Johnson and Servatius, who participated in the interview process, said what swayed them was that members of staff thought highly of Graska after interviewing him.

“What weighed the most heavily for me was the feedback from the boots on the ground; the people who will be working with him on a daily basis,” Servatius said.

Langley Councilman Jim Sundberg said he was also impressed with Graska’s work managing transit for the Microsoft campus.

Coupeville Councilman Bob Clay outlined the extensive process the board undertook to find an interim director. He said the human resource director from the Whatcom Transit Authority volunteered to assist with the process, which he said was a great help.

In addition, staff from other transit agencies also assisted.

Three of the seven applicants were interviewed by the board and department heads at Island Transit during a marathon meeting Nov. 14. The candidates were even asked to run a simulated staff meeting.

“It was an extensive process,” Clay said.

Dudley was out of town and didn’t attend the six-hour-long interview process, so Servatius filled in for him.

Dudley and Servatius disagreed, however, on how long the councilman was supposed to continue on the board and it took Island Transit’s attorney at the meeting to settle the matter. Dudley had been appointed by the council, and therefore allowed to stay.

He voted against approving Graska’s contract.