By Kevin Hogencamp
Amid a cloud of secrecy, City Manager Alfred Lott has fired transit system director Nedra Woodyatt and her second-in-command as the city continues to try to push a scandal-ridden $9 million bus station project through the federal bureaucracy.
Woodyatt was the project director for the proposed “multi-modal transportation center,” which is costing taxpayers millions of additional dollars to accommodate passenger rail service despite there being no projections for such a service here.
Woodyatt’s firing is a scandal itself; her maintenance manager also was dismissed and Lott refuses to say who he has put in charge of the city transit system. Meanwhile, public records show that Lott has accused Woodyatt and her staff of gross mismanagement.
Woodyatt is not a city employee; rather, she and the transit maintenance manager are contractors for MV Transportation, a California firm that helps operate transportation systems in more than 120 locations in 24 states. In 2007, MV was named the United States’ top African American-owned employer by Black Enterprise Magazine.
Lott expressed his displeasure with Woodyatt in a December letter to MV Transportation.
“Your representatives have failed to provide the level of operational leadership and maintenance management we believe is needed to assist Albany Transit in moving forward. The attached report details some of these concerns; others have been discussed with you,” Lott wrote to Thomas E. Stringer Jr., MV’s east operations vice president in Charlotte, N.C. “Accept this letter as a former ‘cure’ notice.
It is our expectation that MV Transportation will provide the leadership and skills to resolve the concerns presented and discussed or the city will proceed with contract termination.”
Woodyatt and MV officials did not return messages seeking comment from them. If MV officials have responded in writing to the city, Lott is a committing misdemeanor crimes by not disclosing requested public information. Meanwhile, the Journal posed these questions on Tuesday to Lott, who did not respond:
* When was Nedra terminated as the director of Albany Transit?
* What other disciplinary action has been taken against city or contracted personnel?
* Has the transit company responded to the city manager’s concerns? If so, what did they say?
* What is the status of the city’s relationship with MV Transportation?
* Who is running Albany Transit now?
* With Nedra gone, who is the bus station project manager?
Buoyed by the prospect of federal aid, Albany officials have planned a new bus transfer station or the renovation of the existing West Oglethorpe Boulevard transfer facility for nearly a decade. The city’s motive for a “multimodal” project accommodating high-speed rail transportation is mysterious; the project is not cited in an extensively prepared regional transportation strategy and high-speed rail transportation in south Georgia is not contemplated by state planning officials.
Yet, in July, the project got a surprising and massive shot in the arm when the Georgia Department of Transportation announced it had secured $9 million in federal stimulus funding for what would be the largest multimodal transportation center in the state.
Last month, Lott angrily interrupted a citizens meeting last week and ordered his key transportation staffer to quit answering questions about the bus station project. Transportation planner David Hamilton was meeting with the local Citizens Transportation Committee when Lott entered the room late, interrupted, and issued a gag order to his employee.
Committee members were trying to find out why city and state transportation officials provided false information to the federal government as they secretly sought substantially enhanced funding for the project, which recently, suddenly and without explanation grew in scope from $2.3 million to $9 million.
Public records show that city and state officials conspired last year to inaccurately present a flawed environmental assessment, incomplete historical-preservation data, and false public-participation information to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.
It is unclear whether the scheme was due to government officials’ ineptness or due to corrupt activity at city hall. No city commissioner has demanded that the matter be independently investigated.
By Kevin Hogencamp