New Metro Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Dawn Distler is getting a big bump in pay compared to the agency's previous leader.

The Metro board on Thursday approved a two-year contract for Distler, who started her new job Monday. She will be paid $160,000 a year.

Previous Executive Director Richard Enty, who was fired earlier this year, had an annual salary of $129,243.

"We are so excited to have her on board and we are looking forward to a long tenure at the helm," board President Robert DeJournett said after the board voted in favor of the contract during its meeting at the Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center in downtown Akron.

Distler, 56, started her career at Metro as a bus driver. She had been working as the director of the Knoxville Area Transit in Knoxville, Tenn., before taking the Metro position.

She told the board that she was excited to be back at Metro and looked forward to working with the board members.

"I’m confident my skill and experience was taken into consideration during negotiations with METRO’s Board of Trustees," Distler said in an emailed message after the meeting. "I have experience managing a transit system of comparable size.

"I see my contract as a vote of confidence in my ability as a leader and an added incentive for me to join Metro's hard working staff."

Distler will be one of the highest paid public officials in Summit County, as her salary is higher than Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan ($152,380) and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro ($138,194). She also will earn more than the leaders at Children Services ($150,883) and Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health ($145,121), but less than the DD superintendent ($172,744).

While the head of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's salary is $130,000, officials at the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority and Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority didn't immediately respond when asked about leaders' salaries at those agencies. The Dayton Daily News reported last year that the Dayton RTA CEO made $211,801.

Under the nine-page contract, which was provided to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com after the meeting, Distler will receive 30 paid vacation days starting next year and Metro will pay for her contribution ($16,000 or 10 percent of her salary annually) to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

The board also agreed to pay $1,000 a month for temporary housing, up to six months, and up to $20,000 in moving expenses.

Distler also will be able to ride the bus for free — a benefit available to all employees. She has already said that she intends to ride the bus to work each day.

Prior to hiring Distler, DeJournett said the board worked with an outside agency that specialized in recruitment in the transit industry.

"As a result," DeJournett said in an emailed statement, "Dawn’s salary ... takes into consideration her extensive experience, her proven track record of running an award winning system, her extensive knowledge of the transit industry, and her involvement with public transit at the national level.

"Her salary is on par with other local agencies," he continued. "The board has full confidence in her abilities to lead this organization and we are excited for this new chapter and welcoming her to the area."

Enty, under his contract, received 20 vacation days a year. The board also paid for his OPERS share, but he didn't receive any housing or moving expenses because he was serving as interim executive director when he was hired in 2012 to the position permanently.

Distler, who is the first permanent female executive director to lead the agency, will oversee more than 400 employees and a $55 million annual operating budget.

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.