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GET board members spar over service, politics [The Bakersfield Californian :: ]
[August 30, 2014]

GET board members spar over service, politics [The Bakersfield Californian :: ]

(Bakersfield Californian, The (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--The newest addition to Golden Empire Transit's board of directors took a swing at her own colleagues Friday, saying they should have made route improvements sooner and ought to fire the agency's CEO.

Annazetta Henderson, who was appointed by county supervisors in January 2013, is under fire along with her four colleagues for not being responsive to riders, and for mishandling the recent five-week transit strike.

In an interview, Henderson said the board, which approved route changes three months before she was appointed, should have made fixes faster when things didn't work.

"They were not listening to the outcry prior to myself coming there," said Henderson, who said she rides the bus. "I happen to know there were a lot of complaints when the changes were made. I think that had they listened to their audience, their customers, those changes could have been made sooner." Henderson also said she felt her fellow board members were reluctant to critique CEO Karen King's job performance at board meetings.

"Her performance has never been brought up," Henderson said. "The four (other) board members that are there support her 100 percent. They handpicked her, they spent countless hours with her." Board member Howard Silver offered a different view of King's performance than Henderson, who said she felt the CEO should be dismissed.

"I would say Ms. King has done everything she can to improve the district and make a better environment for transit in the community," Silver said. "Are we all perfect? I don't know. I can't say anybody is perfect, including myself." The GET board and its CEO of six years have increasingly come under fire this year, by members of a joint city-county transportation committee, the Bakersfield City Council and the Kern County Board of Supervisors, especially during the strike.

Vice Mayor Ken Weir has sought the resignations of Silver and Norris Ledbetter, two GET board members the council appoints, by 5 p.m. Monday -- warning the council will consider removing them if they don't leave.

Leticia Perez, chairwoman of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, has said she'll request the board remove Henderson -- who said she'll go if asked.

Norris and Ledbetter said Thursday they're staying -- setting the stage for a confrontation at the next council meeting -- but also announced changes to several bus stops and routes on Oct. 5: -- Bus stops at the Bakersfield Homeless Center, BARC, and at two Clinica Sierra Vista locations will be restored.

-- Route 61 southwest from Bakersfield College will turn west on Panama Lane instead of east, to improve its time.

-- Route 81, used heavily on weekdays by BC students, will cut its evening hours because that's when ridership drops.

Henderson said she was told there was no money to restore bus stops.

"I was told every single time the budget won't handle it. But that wasn't what I saw," she said, recommending a hiring freeze. "I think that most of all, they can stop hiring people. I think that there are positions in the company that they want to fill that do not need to be filled." GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said no new management employees have been hired in at least four years, and no administrative staff has been added in the last two years.

Board chairwoman Kathleen Ashland, who for personal reasons will be leaving Sept. 16 after 27 years of service, said she feels bad for King.

"We were so fortunate to bring in somebody of Karen King's professionalism and her amazing background and experience," Ashland said. "To be honest, I'm pretty much ashamed of our town right now, the way politics have taken over." City Council members and supervisors have said they want to ensure GET's tens of thousands of riders enjoy the best service possible.

___ (c)2014 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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