Washington State Ferries chief Lynne Griffith told employees via e-mail Tuesday that she will reorganize the management structure and recruit new leaders — creating seven new job titles and requiring four senior staffers to re-apply for positions.
Griffith was hired in September, after retiring as the chief executive of Pierce Transit, and immediately traveled on every route and stopped at all the terminals and maintenance docks.
Elizabeth Kosa was appointed to the new position of chief of staff, after serving as senior port engineer. She will oversee training and safety programs, as well as relations with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Kosa will also take responsibility for ensuring a supply of experienced mariners. Capt. Ty Anderson of the ferry Tacoma just retired, and Capt. Steve Hopkins of the ferry Wenatchee is expected to retire before long. “We need to develop a succession plan and a strategy to make sure we have the most technically trained and qualified people immediately, should we start to see retirements in large numbers,” Griffith said in a phone interview.
Washington state runs the nation’s largest ferry system, serving 23 million passengers per year. Though WSF touts a reliability record of 99 percent, and safe operations, there have been several troubling incidents the past couple of years, including an electrical breakdown of the vessel Tacoma, and some missed sailings related to staff shortages.
“All the hours I have spent on the fleet, I’m amazed at how many things are working extremely well — how skilled and how great the people are,” Griffith said. For example, ferry crews have saved the lives of two people suffering heart attacks, and one who jumped overboard, in the last four months.
Griffith said areas needing improvement include dispatching, where complex staffing rules, union relationships, and logistics make scheduling a challenge; and to ensure that passengers have full information, including prompt alerts if trips are disrupted. “There’s a perception we are not as transparent or accessible as we need to be,” she said.
Hopkins supports the reorganization. “Change can be a good thing. As of today Washington State Ferries is a textbook ‘crises management organization.’ With Lynne’s leadership we can do better,” he said via e-mail.
Employees who were encouraged to re-apply include Capt. George Capacci, who served as interim director after David Moseley retired in April; Marta Coursey, chief communications officer; and Jean Baker, deputy chief for finance and administration. Capacci has said he wishes to continue as Deputy Chief, Operations and Construction — a job title now being eliminated.
There were already openings and turnover. Safety director Darnell Baldinelli, the agency’s go-to person for maritime investigations, left last year for a private-sector job. In November, veteran operations director Steve Rodgers was fired following a prolonged WSDOT internal investigation.
Griffith’s message doesn’t give a specific timeline for the changeover, which she calls a “flattened management approach.” Eight managers will report directly to her, rather than four previously.
Lars Erickson, WSDOT state spokesman, said some job openings will be advertised in the next few days, and others will take longer.
Griffith said she expects to meet Wednesday with the Joint Transportation Committee of the Legislature.