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Transit's Martha Rose a no-show for second public forum

Pending Island Transit service cuts will hit the community hard, and residents let IT officials know it this week.

About 20 people Thursday afternoon showed up to the Freeland Library to voice concerns about route cuts and modifications going into effect Sept. 1.

The meeting was one of a series the transportation agency is holding on the upcoming service changes.

Many attending said they want more details about the financial crisis but didn’t get any answers. The meeting was run by operational staff only. IT Director Martha Rose was not present.

The magnitude of the problem wasn’t made clear to staff until June, they said.

Gordon Labuhn, a Langley man, said he’d held leadership roles at small corporations for 30 years and is “astounded” by the claims of being blind to the problem until it was too late.

“No matter what position I had, I always knew the budgets of every other department,” he said.

Last month, Island Transit leaders announced the transportation service was in the grips of a financial crisis and that the board of directors  approved taking an $800,000 bank loan to pay bills. To stay afloat, the agency is laying off 20 percent of its work force — 24 workers — ending Saturday bus service, cutting a number of routes and modifying several others.

Rose blamed former financial manager Barbara Savary saying she failed to run monthly cash flow analysis reports for years.

Savary was fired in May.

Several people at the meeting asked why Rose, or other financial administrators, weren’t present to answer financial questions.

“Where’s the leadership?” asked an unidentified woman.

According to Shawn Harris, operations manager for Island Transit, it was a decision to staff the community meetings with operational staff only. The purpose was to get feedback from the public about the service changes, and attendance by leading agency officials would be a distraction.

“It’s just two different meetings,” said Harris, adding that just such a gathering will likely happen at some point.

Gary Bluhm, a Langley resident, is legally blind and regularly relies on public transportation. He said cuts could be more evenly distributed throughout the system, that he pays taxes like Oak Harbor residents, but will be without service for at least one year.

“Go find the money,” Bluhm said. “It’s out there, go find it.”

Transit staff at the meeting expressed personal heartache over the cuts, and acknowledged the organization has a tough job ahead.

“We’ve definitely lost a trust, and we’re going to work as hard as we can to earn that back,” Harris said. “Hopefully we can get past what has to happen right now.”

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