MCTO Settles With Whistleblower

THE COST OF mismanagement at the Metropolitan Council Transit Operations continues to rise for bus riders and taxpayers. On December 20 alone, for example, as MCTO announced it was paying more than $200,000 to settle two lawsuits brought by former employees, it was revealed that the transit company had squandered more than $1 million by selling excess bus parts for bargain-basement rates only to repurchase them later at full price.

Ironically, one of the settlements announced that day involved payment of $125,000 to former MCTO police captain Richard Lindgren, who had filed a whistleblower suit against the Metropolitan Council (which administers MCTO) claiming he was punished for investigating widespread theft of bus parts and mismanagement of inventory at the transit company ("The Great Bus Robbery," 10/25/95). While denying the specific assertions in Lindgren's suit, Met Council chair Curt Johnson acknowledges that "We do find bad systems, systems that should have been corrected" within MCTO.

"We're taking an agency that had a culture of inefficiency and sloppiness and saying that we are not going to tolerate that anymore," Johnson continues. "A lot of people have been terminated and more will be. Some of these people are irritated and have decided to get even by hiring an attorney who doesn't win many cases in court but likes to try them in the media."

Johnson is obviously referring to Lindgren attorney Robert Hill, who still has four outstanding lawsuits against MCTO involving allegations that range from sexual discrimination to fiscal mismanagement to violations of federal OSHA regulations. Hill responds that he is "being bombarded every day with calls from current as well as former employees. What I have learned is that the [Lindgren] suit just drew attention to a systemic problem. We are talking about a culture of lax management, with a willingness to tolerate theft, discrimination, and embezzlement." Referring to Johnson's claim that senior management personnel at MCTO will be more closely monitored and realigned, Hill says, "The only solution is to replace the management team from top to bottom, not add more bureaucracy. If Johnson means what he says, then why is [MCTO General Manager Tom] Sather still there? For that matter, Curt Johnson says he inherited this mess"--the Met Council took over operation of MCTO in August of 1994--" but he was told of mismanagement at the bus company years ago. We have transcripts of the meeting.

"This thing is far from over; it won't go away with a few settlements and a promise of bureaucratic action," Hill says. "The State Auditor is supposed to deliver the results of her investigation sometime in January and then I assure you the State Legislature will be looking into this. I don't believe [Johnson] means what he says about getting control of this agency and I think you will see that the Legislature doesn't believe it either."

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