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BLOG: TransLink CEO Suddenly & Suprisingly Says She's Calling It Quits ...
BLOG: TransLink CEO Suddenly & Suprisingly Says She's Calling It Quits


BLOG: TransLink CEO Suddenly & Surprisingly Says She's Calling It Quits ...

SOURCE: Vancouver Sun

Jan 17/08: TransLink CEO Suddenly & Surprisingly Says She's Calling It Quits ...

The news Wednesday that the head of B.C.'s frequently controversial and embattled transportation authority has decided to leave TransLink provoked some officials to literally shriek with surprise.

"I just saw her a few days ago at the announcement about the new transit plan and now she's leaving?" was the exclamation from Suzanne Anton, a Vancouver city councillor who was a TransLink board member until 17 days ago. "This is going to be very disruptive. We have a new board and now to lose the CEO, it will be a blow."

Shock, dismay, sadness, and worry about the future were other reactions that greeted the announcement that Pat Jacobsen, the woman who steered TransLink through most of the rocky years of its eight-year existence, has decided that she is going to call it quits.

It's a good time to go, said Jacobsen, with the organization entering an important new phase of its life. There's a new board that's been appointed as part of the provincial government's decision to radically change the management of the organization with the $1-billion budget, along with a new 10-year plan to carry out and the Olympics approaching.

"It's a natural point to pass the baton. They needed a commitment for a CEO who would be there for at least five years," said the 61-year-old bureaucrat.

Jacobsen said she had every assurance from the new board members, who got the news last week, that they wanted to keep her on, but "it was very much a personal decision" to leave.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said she is not getting any kind of severance package, since she has resigned voluntarily from her $315,000-a-year job. She plans to stay on for at least three months or as long as necessary to ensure a smooth transition, she said. Jacobsen had an indefinitely open contract that was negotiated after her last contract expired two years ago.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said it is "actually real sad" that she is leaving. "We had a great working relationship. She was exceptional."

But, Falcon said, he can understand why she's leaving after seven years working in a dysfunctional atmosphere.

"I used to say to myself, 'The stuff she has to go through, I couldn't do.' You have a board that's constantly riven by internal fights and controversies," said Falcon, who has said that kind of political squabbling is the reason the provincial government has chosen to change the structure of TransLink to have a board of "professionals" like other Crown corporations, instead of politicians, directing things.

Jacobsen arrived in Vancouver in July 2001, a little more than two years after TransLink was formed, right in the middle of the region's bitter three-month bus strike and shortly after the former NDP government had cancelled the idea of charging a $75 vehicle levy, a tax that had provoked stormy public opposition but was supposed to be one of the financial pillars of the new transit authority.

She succeeded Ken Dobell, who had created the TransLink structure and who went on to become deputy premier.

By 2003, Jacobsen, who had worked as a deputy transportation minister in Ontario and CEO of the Manitoba Workers' Compensation Board, saw TransLink go through months of uncertainty as board members wrestled with whether to support a SkyTrain line to Richmond that the provincial government was aggressively pushing.

Since then, there has been mounting pressure from all parts of the region for improved transit and problems with finding ways to finance that.

Some say it's not surprising if Jacobsen had had her fill.

"She wouldn't admit it, but it's been a harassing position to be in," said former TransLink chair George Puil, who got a call from Jacobsen Tuesday night with the news. "You had a different board every year, some of them obstreperous. And now you've got this new provincially appointed board, a commissioner who's supposed to be named as well, and how do you handle all of this?"

He said Jacobsen had a style that kept people calm in what could be confrontational situations.

"She placated everybody. She came in after the strike and she worked with the unions." TransLink and its affiliates have 6,000 employees, of which almost 5,000 are in various unions.

Both Puil and the most recent past TransLink chair, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, said the biggest problem in TransLink's future is going to be finding the money to pay for all the ambitious new transit projects planned.

The new board's new chair, Dale Parker, also said Jacobsen's decision came as a complete surprise.

"There's no doubt the board was really shocked. I spent an hour and a half twisting her arm," said Parker, a business consultant and vice-chair of the Vancouver police board whose election as chair was also announced Tuesday.

Parker said the board will be initiating a major search for a successor.

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