Friday, June 2, 2023

Embattled WAVE transit’s executive director out after contract negotiations fall apart

The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority will hold a public hearing next month to discuss potential service changes. (Port City Daily photo / File)
The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority’s executive director has ‘effectively resigned.’ (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — Executive Director Albert Eby has “effectively resigned” from the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (Wave Transit), the authority announced after an emergency meeting of the Wave Board on Wednesday afternoon. The resignation is effective immediately.

Last week, during the Wave Board’s regular meeting, Eby’s job performance was discussed in closed session. According to Wave, during that meeting, “the Wave Board offered Mr. Eby continued employment with the authority, including the same pay and benefits, in light of his current contract expiring on June 30.”

According to Wave, Eby sought a different offer. Although no details were offered, Eby, presumably, did not ask for less money.

“Mr. Eby provided a counter offer but the board did not agree to his terms and rejected his offer. Because we could not come to terms, and due to the fact that Mr. Eby has effectively resigned his position through his actions, this ends his employment with Wave Transit,” according to Wave.

Eby’s salary has been a bone of contention for some New Hanover County commissioners, who brought the issue up in a November 2019 meeting when Eby requested $57,000 in stop-gap funding from the county.

The county had already voted to break ties with Wave the previous month and following additional budget shortfalls at the transit authority, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and County Chair Julia Olson-Boseman announced in early January that WAVE would be restructured. While Saffo was more positive about WAVE’s performance, Olson-Boseman said the restructuring would, in her mind, include liquidating the current board and administration, saying she had “no faith” in WAVE’s leadership.

Just weeks later, Wave contacted county officials to say it needed a further $700,000 or it would need to suspend operations by mid-February. Eby denied that Wave had any plans to stop running buses, despite emails from Wave’s finance director stating the contrary to the county.

Days later, Eby said answers were forthcoming, but the situation remained murky. The following week, Wave’s Board was replaced, but Eby’s fate remained uncertain — until now.

Eby, who has been the executive director of Wave since its creation in 2004, negotiated his current contract in 2015. Eby has said that a“transit authority in another state” attempted to recruit him at that time and the WAVE board negotiated the 2015 contract “based on market compensation.” Under his current salary, his base salary has increased annually, starting at $117,000 in 2016 and reaching $152,800 this summer. The total budget allowance for Eby’s salary in Fiscal Year 2020 is around $208,000 including benefits.

For comparison, other base salaries (not including benefits) for transportation authority directors in North Carolina as of 2018: Mark McDonald, High Point – $139,732; Adam Fischer, Greensboro – $126,763; Toneq’ McCullough, Winston-Salem — $118,354; John Lewis, Charlotte – $238,761.

Despite past differences, the Board expressed gratitude for Eby’s work over the last 16 years.

Deputy Director Megan Matheny will begin serving as interim director immediately, and the Wave Board will begin its search for a new executive director in the coming weeks, according to Wave.

According to WECT, Eby said the move caught him off-guard and that he had not resigned; this likely explains the cautious language by County Manager and Wave Board Chair Chris Coudriet, who said Eby had ‘effectively resigned through his actions.’

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