Mike Nortier (Photo provided)

Mike Nortier (Photo provided)

Nortier to step down as Island Transit executive director

Executive director deboarding bus system next month

Mike Nortier plans to resign as executive director for Island Transit at the end of October, more than two years after being hired to resolve the agency’s financial woes.

His last day is Oct. 26. A search for a new executive director is under way.

Hired as executive director in May 2016, Nortier said he’s informed his staff and the board of directors of his decision to leave.

“Personal reasons have led me to submit my resignation; however, I will remain in the Oak Harbor area,” Nortier said in an email.

Langley City Councilman Bruce Allen, who sits on the Island Transit board of directors, said Nortier provided a much-needed boost to the mass transit system.

“He was just terrific,” Allen said. “It’s a real loss.”

Board Chairman and Island County Commissioner Rick Hannold said Nortier improved relations among the staff and restored trust.

“The morale among our represented employees and non-represented staff is at the best I have seen since coming to the board in 2014,” Hannold said.

“There is a respect and mutual trust and understanding between the board, management and staff that we have not historically seen at the agency.”

The board is being assisted with the search for a new executive director by the Portman Company, said Helen Price Johnson, the second Island County commissioner who serves on the board.

Application posting closes Sept. 30.

“Mike has been an excellent executive director, and is leaving Island Transit healthy and well poised for continued success,” Price Johnson said.

“His leadership has been one of collaboration, stability and integrity.”

The agency employs 118 people and operates 60 regular and paratransit buses and 81 vans available for rideshare commuters.

Island Transit serves Whidbey Island with 10 fixed routes and Camano Island with five fixed routes.

The 2018 budget is $12.3 million.

Partly funded by a 0.09 percent sales tax, Island Transit is one of two fare-free systems remaining in Washington state. Fares were added on its Camano Island to Everett routes two years ago.

The board recently voted against implementing fares on any other routes.

Price Johnson and Hannold praised Nortier for bringing innovative ideas to improve transportation options, such as guided bus tours and RideLink, which assigns vans to nonprofit organizations to be used as needed.

Under his watch, the agency became debt-free, Saturday service returned and aging buses were replaced.

“He has been such an excellent director, very approachable, very capable, great leadership skills and a good sense of humor, too,” said Maribeth Crandell, the system’s mobility specialist. “We offered him a free bus pass for life, but he still didn’t change his mind.”

Nortier praised the agency’s bus operators and staff for its spirit of teamwork to improve and deliver much needed services to the community.

“Over the last couple of years, they have achieved significant improvements in operating efficiency and innovative partnerships to improve awareness and accessibility,” Nortier said.

A former commander of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Nortier didn’t have any experience with public transit before taking on the job, but Island Transit board members said they believed that leadership skills were the most important skill needed.

Over three decades, the system has weathered mismanagement, a financial crisis, employee lay-offs, route reductions and declining ridership.

The future for Island Transit could include electric buses or other new technology, Nortier predicted.

”While we are beginning to use alternative fuels now, the introduction of electric buses is on the horizon,” he said.

“Today they do not have the range to meet our service needs in a rural community; however, that will improve as the technology matures.”

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