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FRTA control

Franklin Regional Transit Authority bus riders can breathe a little easier with the word that a contract agreement had been reached.

It goes to show that there’s plenty going on behind the scenes, even when one party or both start to make their case in the court of public opinion.

As reported in The Recorder Wednesday, the union representing the drivers, mechanics and dispatchers was considering all options in getting through to management, choices that included going on strike.

Thankfully, a possible strike and the disruption it would cause for the people who use the FRTA to meet their transportation needs never materialized.

The public will probably never know if going public with the idea of a strike dislodged the logjam when it came to negotiations.

What the public has seen, however, raises a serious question about responsibility and oversight when it comes to the FRTA.

We recognize that FRTA Administrator Tina Cote does not directly negotiate with her United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 274 counterparts. Under state law, an outside management company is hired by the FRTA to operate the transportation service and that contract includes negotiations with employees. It is disingenuous for Cote to claim, however, that she has no influence over what’s happening in talks with the union. The management company isn’t acting on its own. It depends upon Cote to provide the framework for talks and any flexibility when it comes to offers and counteroffers.

As administrator, Cote also has influence over the contract talks via the 40-member board that oversees the regional transit authority. Those volunteer board members depend heavily upon the administrator to keep a careful eye over operations and negotiations and provide it with the information necessary so that the board can carry out its charge, which includes financial decisions, like contracts.

In this case, the extent of that reliance is shown by the fact that the board meets just three times a year.

Each of these different players — the FRTA administrator, the board, the contracted management company and the employees — has a role in the operation of the rural transportation system. But when day-to-day issues arise, the responsibility for handling those issues rest with the FRTA administrator.

Given its multimillion-dollar budget, more frequent meetings by the board seem in order.

Or, at the very least, clearer lines of responsibility should be drawn to provide everyone with a better sense of who’s really in charge.

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