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Port Authority of Allegheny County hires CEO from Tampa-area transit agency | TribLIVE.com
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Port Authority of Allegheny County hires CEO from Tampa-area transit agency

The new Port Authority of Allegheny County CEO is coming from a transit agency with less than a third of the daily riders and employees, but county officials say she has all the qualities they’re seeking.

Katharine Eagan Kelleman will start her new job as Port Authority’s CEO on Jan. 16, moving on from a roughly three-year stint as CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Tampa, Fla., where she worked as the chief operation officer before being promoted.

“All the wonderful, life-changing opportunities we have are irrelevant without transit,” Kelleman said during a Downtown Pittsburgh news conference Wednesday to introduce her. “It’s been what I’m passionate about, as you can tell, and to have the opportunity to bring this focus and do things differently in a preeminent community in America is a dream come true.”

Kelleman agreed to a five-year contract at a salary of $230,000 a year — about $5,000 more than former Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean — making her the second highest paid county-affiliated employee. Each year Kelleman is eligible for an annual retention and performance bonus of up to 10 percent of her salary.

The move to Allegheny County appears to be a step up in Kelleman’s 20-year transit career.

The Tampa-area authority has a fleet of about 200 buses, while Port Authority has more than 700 buses. Tampa has 776 employees, while Port Authority has 2,600. Tampa has about 40,000 daily riders, while Port Authority has 200,000. Tampa has about 2.7 miles of light rail, while Port Authority has 26.2 miles.

Kelleman said she has worked with light-rail systems that are larger than Tampa’s in previous transit jobs in Dallas and Baltimore.

“Tampa probably hosts the smallest rail system in the country, but the requirements from the federal government are exactly the same for safety and we have the same concerns,” Kelleman said.

Steve Palonis, president of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said Kelleman has considerable experience. He said the union, which represents bus drivers, isn’t involved in the CEO selection process.

“It would be ideal if we were (involved), but I don’t think that was the way it was supposed to work out,” Palonis said. “Rich (Fitzgerald) had a game plan. She seems articulate, and we look forward to working with her.”

Kelleman said she has to do more research and talk to riders before deciding her stance on the controversial topics of using armed officers for fare enforcement on the T and requiring some riders to make an extra transfer to get Downtown when Bus Rapid Transit comes.

“I’d say the biggest takeaway is what does a community want?” Kelleman said. “You can design something beautiful, but if a community doesn’t want it, you didn’t do your job. So expect to see me out talking to a lot of folks.”

The Port Authority began its search for a new CEO in April to replace McLean after County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he wanted a CEO with national transit experience.

The authority paid about $100,000 to Maryland-based Krauthamer & Associates to conduct a national search for a new CEO, funded by a Hillman Foundation grant.

The same search firm was used to find Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis and Health Department Executive Director Karen Hacker, Fitzgerald has said.

Port Authority received interest from 43 applicants, which the search committee whittled to 14 candidates, according to a county news release. Of those, committee members interviewed eight via Skype and four in-person. Two candidates went through a second round of interviews.

Authority board members Jennifer Liptak, state Rep. Dom Costa, John L. Tague Jr., D. Raja and Michelle Zmijanac were on the search committee.

The Port Authority’s board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to hire Kelleman.

Kelleman stood out among candidates because she has expanded public-private partnerships, pursued nontransit travel options such as ride-sharing and bicycles and launched a regional fare program, Fitzgerald said.

“What I’m excited about … is her knowledge, her enthusiasm, her excitement about coming to Pittsburgh and being part of a transitioning community that’s moving in the right direction,” Fitzgerald said.

The Tampa-based authority has received accolades for testing self-driving vehicles and moving its fleet from diesel to Compressed Natural Gas.

Before joining the Tampa authority in 2009, Kelleman was director of service development for the Maryland Transit Administration for one year and manager of service planning for Dallas Area Rapid Transit for seven years, according to her LinkedIn page.

Kelleman’s salary at the Tampa authority was $183,000 at the time of her departure.

David Donahoe has been running the authority on an interim basis for $14,000 per month.

McLean received a severance package of one year of her $224,771 salary and one year of health benefits. She served as CEO from 2014 until June 1.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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