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There has been another leadership change at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
General Manager Luis Ramirez is out after 15 months on the job, state officials announced Tuesday. He will be replaced by Steve Poftak, who's currently vice chair of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board.
Ramirez became general manager in September 2017. In a statement, the state Department of Transportation said the T and Ramirez "mutually agreed that the time was right for him to separate from the MBTA and pursue other opportunities."
Poftak's selection as GM will be the fifth leadership change at the T under Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker thanked Ramirez for his service, and said in a statement that Ramirez has "overseen important efforts to increase financial stability at the T, including delivering the first balanced operating budget in a decade."
Ramirez, a former General Electric executive, didn't have experience in public transit before the Baker administration picked him for the T's top job. He signed a three-year contract paying him a salary of $320,000.
“I was brought in to the MBTA from the outside corporate world to bring a fresh business perspective and skills to the MBTA,” Ramirez said in a statement Tuesday. “With the progress we have achieved around financial and operational execution, this is a good time to transition to someone with different skill sets.”
But Jim Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary, told WBUR that Ramirez's private sector background was not the right fit.
"I think this is the classic case of a mismatch of someone's experiences in work and life with the actual job," he said.
When they named him to the post, state officials touted Ramirez for his turnaround experience. But his business career prior has since faced scrutiny.
As WBUR reported, there were significant accounting problems at one former firm, Global Power Equipment Group. Less than two months after Ramirez left the company, Global Power notified the federal Securities Exchange Commission that its financial statements from 2014 “should not be relied upon because of accounting errors.” An internal review found accounting errors dating back to 2012 — which preceded Ramirez’ tenure and continued throughout his term as CEO. The errors, and corrections, had a significant effect on the health of Global Power.
A class action lawsuit over the restatements and what Ramirez knew about the errors was dismissed this fall. The judge ruled that there was evidence Ramirez and the CFO knew they were publishing false information which “materially changed Global Power’s financial results” but there was not enough evidence that the two knew the errors were significant enough to affect a “reasonable” investor’s decision on whether to buy shares of the company.
Poftak was interim general manager for three months in 2017, before Ramirez's tenure. He assumes the MBTA leadership role on Jan. 1, 2019.
In his statement, Baker said he supports state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack's decision to appoint Poftak.
“Steve Poftak is the right person to facilitate a smooth transition and continue the important work to reform the MBTA for customers,” Pollack said in a statement. “Steve knows the personnel, he knows the issues, he knows the system, and most of all, Steve knows the importance of accelerating progress toward fixing the MBTA.”
Poftak will step down from his position as executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Harvard Kennedy School. He's also worked at the Pioneer Institute and in the executive branch in the Office for Administration and Finance.
In his own statement, Poftak said he's "excited about leading the MBTA to provide a premier region with a premier transit agency.”
Said Jimmy O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, in a statement: "We look forward to working with Steve Poftak going forward to address the issues that we continue to see plaguing the T every day like low employee morale, dissatisfied passengers, and equipment that needs investment. Until the MBTA makes a real, concerted effort to fix what’s broken, the system – and all those who rely on it - will continue to suffer.”
With reporting by WBUR's Kathleen McNerney and the Newscast Unit
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