This is a tumultuous time for New Jersey Transit. Rail labor threatened a strike a few months ago. Everybody believed that situation had been resolved and that our trains would keep running, but they were wrong, although the Lackawanna Coalition has now received news of a tentative settlement. NJT is still having financial problems, even though it appears that the budget for fiscal year 2016-17 will not make the situation worse, at least. Then there was the ineptitude surrounding the attempt to hire William Crosbie as Executive Director. The Board of Directors held a special meeting six days before their regularly scheduled meeting, purportedly to hire Crosbie, but it appears that they did not even have a complete agreement with him.

So Dennis Martin is still “Interim Executive Director” until some undetermined time in the near future. At its meeting on May 23, the Lackawanna Coalition discussed that situation and agreed that it is time for the Board to remove the word “Interim” from his title.

Dennis Martin has served New Jersey Transit and its riders well. As head of Bus Operations, he led the successful effort to relieve bus congestion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal for commuters heading home on the bus at peak-commuting times. This is an outstanding achievement. We acknowledge that he has his experience on the bus scene and not the rail scene, but we also note that Dennis has done no harm on the rail side, while he made great improvements on the bus side. It also appears that he is open-minded and will listen to us as the representatives of the riding public, something that not all of his predecessors were willing to do.

NJT is a political organization, whether we like it or not, and regardless of the actual language of its enabling statute, the Transportation Act of 1979. When a new governor takes office in Trenton, NJT gets a new Executive Director. Gov. Chris Christie will leave office in about 18 months, and we expect that his successor will appoint a new boss for NJT. We do not see any benefit for New Jersey’s transit riders, or for NJT employees, in going through a “search process” to find a “qualified candidate” to replace Dennis Martin for such a short time. We doubt that a well-qualified candidate from outside NJT would want to take the job for that amount of time, and NJT officials have better things to do with their time and effort than look for an agency head whose tenure would be “permanent” in name only.

In a similar situation, this Board recently removed the word “Acting” from the title of Board Secretary Joyce Zuczek, after she bore the temporary-sounding title for five years. We have always appreciated Joyce’s professionalism and respect for us, as representatives of the riders. We strongly commend the Board for recognizing Joyce’s value to NJ Transit, and we believe they should do the same for Dennis. We recommend that the Board of Directors remove the word “Interim” from Dennis Martin’s title and make him just “Executive Director” for the foreseeable future. The next governor may replace him, but at least the riders will have the benefit of his experience and uninterrupted leadership during the difficult times ahead.