Thursday, October 13, 2011

NTTA chief bails after ruffling the crony connections of HNTB, Locke Lord and other 'legacy' firms with 'no bid' contracts

Under fire, Tollway chief resigns today


By Gordon Dickson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2011

Under fire for trying to reform agency operations too quickly, North Texas Tollway Authority Executive Director Allen Clemson resigned today.

In private meetings this week with an unidentified board member, it was made clear to Clemson that the board had enough votes to fire him Wednesday. So, instead, he resigned effective Friday.

Clemson must still negotiate a severance and, although his contract only calls for 90 days of pay, it is believed that he will receive his salary through the end of his contract term in May.

Reached by telephone Thursday afternoon, Clemson did not want to elaborate on his job status until after talking with tollway board members. But Clemson did say that he expected to be fired during a tollway board meeting Wednesday.

"I don't have any indication that a majority of the board's opinion has changed," he said.

Clemson was nearly fired during the summer after most of the tollway board's nine members said they didn't like the manner in which he was trying to bring in new firms to handle the agency's legal, engineering and other professional services. But under then-Chairman Victor Vandergriff of Arlington, a Clemson supporter, the tollway board opted to instead begin a 90-day review of Clemson's job performance.

The source with knowledge of Clemson's termination asked not to be identified because the source was not authorized to discuss the situation but said Clemson was preparing to leave today.

Clemson came to the Plano-based tollway authority in June 2009 after a lengthy stint as the Dallas County administrator. He stepped into a position known as a hot seat -- the agency had had five executive directors in five years. Not long after he arrived, Clemson sought to change the tollway authority's culture of relying on engineering firm HNTB, legal firm Locke Lord and a handful of other companies for tens of millions of dollars per year in tollway work.

But beginning last year, he came under fire for seeking change too swiftly, as some board members sought to ensure that the quality of work of several ongoing big-dollar projects wasn't hurt during the transition. That spat let to the ouster of Vandergriff as chairman. He was replaced by former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, who became tollway board chairman last month.

"I think a lot of things he could have done differently, and it probably would have prevented some of the angst out there, but I certainly appreciate the job he has done," Vandergriff said of Clemson. Vandergriff, who was reached by phone Thursday afternoon, said he had not been told of Clemson's departure.

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