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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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