Brian Lamb, the longest-serving general manager and public face of Metro Transit, was abruptly ousted Friday in a leadership shake-up at the Metropolitan Council.
The new chairwoman of the regional planning body, Nora Slawik, tapped the council's top manager to replace Lamb, a 30-year Metro Transit veteran. Slawik also promoted a former aide to Gov. Tim Walz, Meredith Vadis, to be the council's new regional administrator. Vadis previously held several leadership posts at the council.
The Met Council is one of the most powerful regional governments in the country, overseeing a vast number of responsibilities spanning the seven-county metro area. The agency collects and treats the region's wastewater, guides how land is used, plans and operates the transit system and doles out development grants, among other functions.
Metro Transit, a division of the council, is one of the nation's largest transit systems, and its leader is among the state's highest-paid public employees — Lamb was slated to earn $216,070 in 2019.
The news comes as multiple state agencies and the council itself transition to new leadership under the Walz administration. But it stunned the head of the union that represents more than 2,400 Metro Transit workers.
"I'm in complete shock," said Ryan Timlin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005. While acknowledging there were occasional differences between Metro Transit management and the union, Timlin said Lamb "always in the long run made it work and made things acceptable for both sides."
Lamb, 62 and a Minneapolis native, began his career in Metro Transit's Research Department and assumed the agency's top position in 2004, overseeing some 3,200 employees. He is a fervent transit rider and his face is featured in countless ads on Metro Transit buses.
He led Metro Transit when it was named Public Transit System of the Year in 2016 by the American Public Transportation Association, an industry group. Ridership on Metro Transit hit its highest levels in a generation during his tenure, and the Green Line light-rail and the A Line rapid-bus began service.
The metro area's transit system is expected to grow in the next decade with the addition of the Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines, three more bus-rapid transit projects and more rapid-bus routes.
'It's about the future'
"We're really looking at the future and what is the Metro Transit of the future," Slawik said Monday, noting issues with homeless people using transit for shelter and financing challenges with new projects. "There's a number of things we want to focus on. So it's really not about the past. It's about the future."
Slawik appointed Wes Kooistra, the council's regional administrator, to lead the transit agency. Kooistra worked at the Department of Human Services before arriving at the council in 2008. He will earn $222,581.
Asked about Kooistra's more limited transit experience, Slawik said he has a background in management.
"I think that that's going to be helpful," Slawik said. "Potentially he may add a staff position — sort of a chief of staff. So there will be other experts that he will work with. I've thought it through and I think it's going to work."
Vadis is taking Kooistra's place after serving as deputy regional administrator since 2015. In her new job, Vadis will oversee the council's more than 4,000 employees and $1 billion budget. She is the first woman to serve in that position.
Earlier in her career, Vadis worked for Walz as his deputy chief of staff and communications director between 2007 and 2011.
In a statement, Slawik said the Met Council "is critical to our region's economic competitiveness and community prosperity. We have enormous challenges ahead, and I know Meredith will help us tackle those challenges."
Regarding Lamb, Slawik said in a news release, he "has been committed to the council's goal of improving mobility in our region for decades. I want to thank him for his years of service and work to build a talented and dedicated staff. Our region will benefit from his leadership for decades to come."
Lamb was not available for comment.
At the end of the council's Transportation Committee meeting Monday, several members expressed praise and sadness over Lamb's departure.
Council Member Jennifer Munt said she's "never worked with a finer manager than Brian Lamb. I would walk through fire for him."