Langley’s Jim Sundberg now last of old Island Transit Guard

Jackie Henderson’s first meeting on the Island Transit board was an eventful marathon session in which the board adopted new routes, purchased new buses and rejected a headhunting proposal.

Henderson replaces longtime Island Transit member Bob Clay on the board of the recovering agency. She is a member of the Coupeville Council and the director of Island County Human Services.

The Coupeville Council appointed Henderson to serve on the transit board this week. Both Clay and Henderson asked to be appointed; the council chose Henderson in a 3-2 vote.

That means Langley Councilman Jim Sundberg is the only person on the five-member transit board who was there when financial trouble forced the agency to cut staff and routes last year.

Henderson said Clay, the former chairman, did an admirable job on the transit board and her request to be on the board has nothing to do with him. As the Human Services director, she said she can help represent the needs of the vulnerable people in the community who often rely on buses.

“I feel like I have a real inside track on that population,” she said.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, a fellow board member, said Henderson is a great addition to the board. She said other board members are all about the numbers, but Henderson will be able to balance that out with a more human perspective.

Friday, the board unanimously approved a “system enhancement plan” that should bring back much of the service to several routes on South Whidbey that were cut last summer, and combine a couple of routes in Oak Harbor.

The changes won’t impact the budget, transit officials said.

The board also voted to purchase nine new light-duty buses. The purchase was budgeted for this year. The agency received a grant to fund 80 percent of the cost; the agency will pay $171,000.

Ken Graska, the interim director, said he discovered that the agency doesn’t have a vehicle replacement schedule and, as a result, the fleet is very old. He said most of the buses are “well beyond the regulated life cycles,” and maintenance costs are greater than they should be.

Only Johnson voted against the purchase. She said the money could be used for service restoration instead of equipment purchases.

In addition, the board decided against hiring a headhunting firm to help find a permanent director. The costs from the firms that responded to the request for proposals ranged from $25,000 to $40,000.

Johnson said the board didn’t want to spend that kind of money when the budget is so tight. She said afterward that the agency has positive momentum under Graska’s leadership and the original June time frame for replacing him seemed too soon.

“There’s no reason to throw the agency into turmoil,” Johnson said.