Regional Transportation District board announces new CEO


DENVER  |  A transportation agency in Colorado has announced that a transit executive was chosen to become the first female CEO and general manager of the Regional Transportation District.

The board voted 14-1 on Tuesday to extend the offer to Debra Johnson, Colorado Public Radio reported. The lone dissenting vote was from board member Natalie Menten.

Debra Johnson

Johnson has previously worked at transit agencies in Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles. She is the deputy CEO of the transit agency in Long Beach, Calif.

“We are excited to start this new adventure,” Board Chair Angie Rivera Malpiede said. If Johnson accepts, she would replace Paul Ballard, who took over on an interim basis earlier this year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and several other business struggles.

The agency now plans to reduce its budget by about $166 million, which could mean the use of reserves and pay cuts for staff, including Johnson. The agency has raised concerns about creating a perception of inequality if they pay Johnson, who is Black, less than her predecessors, who are white men.

Ballard made $350,000 annually, and his predecessor Dave Genova made $295,000 plus benefits and a pension contribution.

Menten argued Tuesday that Ballard’s high salary, which the board majority approved, put them in this position now.

“My vote tonight is in opposition to what is going to be another bloated, executive salary at RTD,” she said. “Looking at our budget problems. We do need to address these things.”

The board is expected to negotiate salary terms with Johnson over the coming weeks.