RBA board treasurer Robert Lendi, RBA attorney David Hollenbeck and board secretary Steven Kramer listen as board members voices concerns about the two month contract extensions for executive director Tim Brown and planning and transit director Ken Dahlmeyer as buses will shut down this weekend. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:15PM
MERRILLVILLE — Tensions ran high at the final Regional Bus Authority meeting before the end of bus service on June 30.
The board met as scheduled with 12 members in attendance to discuss the future of the group and its employees as the bus system shuts down.
Although service is shutting down, it was noted that ridership was up in May, within 200 rides of the service’s all-time high in March. Nearly 31,000 people used easygo services.
With the service shutdown set for Saturday night, Raymond Fletcher, a member of the RBA board said, “It weighs heavily on my heart.”
He said the loss of jobs is a disappointment, but it could have been avoided. Living on disability, he understands life on a fixed income, he said.
“We needed to scrimp and save,” he said.
Fletcher and other board members have little hope for a last-minute effort from a group called TransportAzumah that wants to help save the RBA.
“I think it’s an absolute con,” Fletcher said.
TransportAzumah, based in New York, would request a loan from the Regional Development Authority to fund bus routes on the East Coast. Those routes would then subsidize the Hammond buses.
RBA Executive Director Tim Brown said Tuesday that the proposal lacked detail, and that the company sent him more information Wednesday. Even with the new information, Brown said, he’s not sure if the plan will work.
“We are going to going to turn over every stone and look at every possibility,” said Steve Kramer, a board member.
The RBA also discussed a switch in its offices, which led to questions from Fletcher about fiscal responsibility.
The board did not take action on the issue, but is still planning a move from its offices in Portage to Merrillville to cut costs. A move to Hammond’s Dan Rabin plaza, which was offered to the RBA for a dollar for the year, was dismissed because of overhead costs.
Fletcher also questioned extending the contracts of Brown and planning and transit director Ken Dallmeyer.
The board voted to keep the pair employed on a month-to-month basis until August.
Fletcher voted against the move in an 11-1 vote, asking why a transit director was necessary with no transit function. He also questioned the effectiveness of Brown as a leader. He said Brown had worked for four years to secure a funding source and his failure to do so means he should no longer remain in the executive director post.
“The executive failed, and we’re giving him a contract?” Fletcher said. “Why are we letting him keep his job?”
Fletcher also blamed state legislators, saying they have a negative view of the RBA.
“The RBA is dividing more people than uniting,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
Brown said he had received a motion of support Wednesday morning from the Lake County commissioners asking state lawmakers to change existing law to provide regional transportation funds.
Brown said he brought the motion to the Regional Development Authority as a means of asking them to continue supporting RBA service, but the idea was rejected.
RDA communications director Dave Wellman said the RDA in April offered to provide gap funding beyond the June 30 shutdown if a permanent funding source could be obtained, but the Lake County proposal does not accomplish that.
“Since 2005, the RDA has invested more than $12.3 million in regional busing in Northwest Indiana,” Wellman said. “This seed capital successfully established the base for a regional system. However, it was always clear that local ownership and collaboration would be required to sustain and continually improve the system.”
Wellman said the RDA will continue to work with officials in order to secure mass transit in the region.