EDITORIAL | Mike Nortier is the right choice to lead Island Transit

A smart move by members of the Island Transit board should mute much of the public criticism that has continued to dog the agency in recent years. This week board members unanimously chose Mike Nortier among three candidates for the director position.

Nortier retired from the Navy this year after serving with distinction as commanding officer of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He doesn’t have experience in transit, but he does have what the agency badly needs — strong leadership skills and credibility.

Many in the community were understandably in an uproar after it came to light in 2014 that financial mismanagement forced officials to layoff staff and cut routes. Many were more upset after the board gave former director Martha Rose a big payoff when she left.

The members of the board are now entirely new, but many in the community still were cynical and suspicious. It didn’t help that the interim director was arrested on suspicion of DUI and went into recovery last year; the board members didn’t publicly acknowledge the incident until after the South Whidbey Record learned about it.

The board likely broke the Open Public Meetings Act during the process of selecting a new director. The Attorney General’s open government expert and other experts — as well as case law — note that governmental boards are allowed to discuss the candidates in closed-door session, but they shouldn’t narrow down the candidates in secret.

Of course, Nortier can’t be blamed for mistakes the board made in the selection process. And the board followed the law in publicly selecting Nortier for the job this week.

Nortier is respected on base and throughout Whidbey. People who know him say he has a smart, calm leadership style. He holds people to high standards but also coaches them along the way.

He was among the most visible of Navy leaders in the community. He regularly attended events and festivals dressed as a regular guy.

Many of Island Transit’s strongest critics have connections to the Navy, so they are more than happy to have a respected Navy man at the helm.

While Nortier wasn’t always willing or able to speak with the media — or critics — as a commanding officer of a Navy base, we are hopeful that he understands the role of running a small government agency requires him to be available and hands-on.