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Wilson resigns

He’s out.

Frank J. Wilson relinquished the leadership of the Metropolitan Transit Authority on Friday, leaving Metro’s reconstituted board and an acting chief executive with the task of completing the light rail system Wilson was hired to build six years ago.

Wilson, 61, signed a deal to terminate his employment as president and chief executive officer in exchange for payments totaling $456,000, plus extensive pension and insurance benefits.

The board emerged from more than two hours of discussions in closed session to announce the deal. It authorized chairman Gilbert Garcia to negotiate a contract with George Greanias, a former city councilman and city controller, as acting chief executive.

Greanias, 62, who will start work Monday, said he hopes to be considered for the permanent position. He has been out of public life, working as a business consultant, since an unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 1997.

This was a long time in coming, and is probably for the best. I think Wilson deserves praise for all he did to get rail as far as it’s come in Houston. It’s easy to forget just how hostile the environment has been at times, especially in the days when Tom DeLay was still in Congress. Given that, it’s almost a miracle we’ve got the one line we have, and may have the others we’re on the verge of building. But if the $900 million in FTA grants really are endangered, well, Wilson’s legacy won’t be nearly as positive.

In recent weeks, however, new questions have emerged about the anticipated federal grant for the North and Southeast lines as the Federal Transit Administration announced an investigation of Metro’s compliance with “Buy America” rules.

Parker said this issue jeopardized the grant, a characterization disputed Friday by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who attended the board meeting.

“The federal grant is not in jeopardy because we have a good team in Washington” working to secure it, Jackson Lee said.

Hair Balls had a similar report.

[Metro board Chair Gilbert] Garcia said there was no pressure from the FTA for Wilson to resign, that it wasn’t talked about during last week’s meetings in Washington, D.C., so the change in leadership shouldn’t help with any of the FTA’s hesitation.

But Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who spoke at today’s meeting, said Metro will receive the federal funding. Lee spoke with Ray LaHood, the federal transportation secretary, this morning, and, according to Lee, LaHood told her that the administration is committed to paying for Houston’s new light rail.

Still, Metro has been saying it was set to get its full funding agreement from the feds for more than a year, so we wouldn’t trust anything until that agreement is finalized.

We already knew about LaHood being “committed” to Houston rail. I hope this really does mean that the grants are on their way, but I’ll feel much better when it’s all in black and white. Here’s a statement from Mayor Annise Parker about Wilson’s resignation.

It is a new day for openness and transparency at METRO. Now that a new board and chief executive officer are in place, I am committed to working hand-in-hand with the new leadership and the FTA to achieve the next phase of light rail in Houston. I commend board chair Gilbert Garcia and the other board members for their leadership. I am confident they will continue to act in the best interests of the citizens in METRO’s service area.

The Mayor now has her Board in place, and will soon have a new Metro CEO. Let’s see what the new crew can do.

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