Ben Franklin Transit general manager finalists to visit Tri-Cities

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 6, 2014 

Tri-Citians will get a chance to meet the two finalists seeking to be Ben Franklin Transit's new general manager at two receptions Wednesday.

Bill Forsythe of Valley View, Texas, is the former head of private school bus and public transportation contractors, while Dennis Solensky of Waterford, Pa., led the public transit system in nearby Erie for more than 12 years.

The receptions are scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Three Rivers Transit Center, 7109 W. Okanogan Place in Kennewick, and 7:30 p.m. at Ben Franklin Transit's administrative office, 1000 Columbia Park Trail in Richland.

"What we want is for the public to have the opportunity to see who they are and ask them questions," said Ed Frost, who has been serving as the agency's interim director since shortly after former manager Tim Fredrickson resigned in December.

The candidates will interview with Ben Franklin Transit's board during a special closed-door meeting Thursdayafternoon, Frost said. The board could vote on a general manager as soon as its regular meeting Thursday night.

Forsythe Transportation Inc., where Forsythe was CEO from 2007 until the company was sold in 2012, was recognized for its exceptionally high quality service and lowering accident rates, Forsythe said in his resume. The company also won awards for its maintenance of the school bus fleet in Anchorage, Alaska.

He previously headed F&H Inc., which he said grew to become the pre-eminent transportation provider for events in the United States, from 2000-02.

Forsythe also started Forsythe & Associates Inc., a 650-employee company involved with public transit and school bus contracting, in 1984 and sold that company in 2000, his resume said. He said the company started Foothill Transit in Southern California, a public transportation agency serving cities in the San Gabriel Valley that he said started a "new standard" in privatization in the United States.

Forsythe was involved in overseeing transportation during several Olympic Games.

Solensky describes himself as a "truly results-driven CEO" in his resume. The Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority employed 250 people, managed a $20 million budget and operated 80 fixed route buses and 70 paratransit vehicles.

Ben Franklin Transit has a $33.3 million budget, 263 employees and 69 fixed route buses, with 79 Dial-A-Ride vans, Frost said.

Solensky, who led the Erie transit agency from 2001 until late last year, helped acquire money over 16 months to go toward a new $29 million operating facility, his resume said. He also increased ridership to 3.8 million people, reversing a 30-year slide.

Solensky also lists among his accomplishments getting a $10 million intermodal transportation center built, and reducing worker's compensation liability to $200,000 a year from more than $1 million.

The Erie transit authority's board voted last October not to renew Solensky's contract, according to the Erie Times-News. The agency had been criticized for moving buses off a major downtown street without public input, a move Solensky told the paper had been directed by local elected officials.

Solensky was general manager of the Portage (Ohio) Area Regional Transportation Authority from 1996 to 2001, building the organization from top to bottom, and more than doubling the agency's ridership, his resume said.

He served from 1993-96 as transit director for Medina County, Ohio.

Ben Franklin Transit officials wanted to have one event at the transit center, where its riders would be able to easily attend, with the other in the evening, so its drivers and employees could come, Frost said.

Ben Franklin Transit received 86 formal applications for the manager position, which a review group of senior staff and board members narrowed down to the 35 most qualified, Frost said. The review group then brought that down to nine candidates, who were interviewed via video chat by three board members last week.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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