Mayor Annise Parker has said she wants the new Metro board to fire Frank Wilson, the agency’s CEO. So why hasn’t that happened yet? There are a couple of complicating factors.
Among them are uncertainty about the outcome of two investigations of allegations involving Wilson and the cost of buying out his contract — estimated at $1.6 million by Parker’s Metro transition team. The transit agency could avoid this expense if it fired Wilson for cause, defined in Wilson’s contract as “willful malfeasance, gross negligence or the conviction of a felony crime or any crime involving moral turpitude.”
If investigations by the Harris County District Attorney or a consultant find evidence that Wilson misused Metro funds or improperly ordered documents destroyed, the board will have no choice but to fire Wilson, board member Jackie Freeman said.
Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia said he expects to get a report in the next few days from UHY Advisors, the consultant Metro hired to investigate whether Wilson improperly used Metro funds in connection with a personal relationship with his chief of staff, Joanne Wright.
It’s worth it to see if you can fire him for free instead of having to pay $1.6 million to buy out his contract, right? Of course, nobody knows how long the DA will take to investigate the document shredding charges, but at least you’ll have a report about whether or not he was canoodling on the company’s dime soon enough.
The bigger question is what happens if both UHY and the DA clear Wilson of all allegations. You can make a case, as former Metro Chair David Wolff has, the Wilson has accomplished a great deal in his time as CEO. But it’s clear that the transition team holds Wilson responsible for Metro’s poor relationships with many stakeholders as it moves forward with light rail construction, and that these issues make building the lines more difficult and contentious than it needs to be. They also threaten any prospect Metro has of leading a broader regional transportation plan. Can those problems be worked out by the new board if Wilson stays in place? If not, is the $1.6 million buyout a bigger price to pay than waiting two years till his contract expires? Those are the questions they have to answer.