Riordan Invites Ex-N.Y. Transit Chief to L.A. : MTA: Mayor says visit would be as consultant only, but critics say the agency needs a strong executive now.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after he spearheaded the firing of the county's transit chief, Mayor Richard Riordan on Thursday invited the man who held the same post in New York City to visit Los Angeles and discuss the prospect of helping fix the battered operation here.

Riordan said he would like to see Alan F. Kiepper, former president of the New York City Transit Authority, act as a consultant who would offer top-level advice on how to right the agency.

"It was not an offer, but just [an invitation] to come out and talk to people at the MTA," Riordan said of his conversation with Kiepper. "Would he consider it and would he be interested in talking to board members? He said he'd be happy to, but that doesn't mean he would take the job."

The mayor stressed that he did not consider the 68-year-old Kiepper a candidate for chief executive at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority--a post that will be vacated Jan. 1 after this week's firing of Franklin E. White. Kiepper "has no interest in that," Riordan said.

But several MTA board members who have clashed with Riordan on transit policy cautioned that even bringing Kiepper to Los Angeles on an ad-hoc basis could hurt the agency at a time when it is seeking to mend political fissures over White's dismissal.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA board member, sounding incredulous when told of the mayor's proposal, said the agency needs a strong chief executive and that a top-level consultant would only complicate a confusing chain of command.

"I just think Mayor Riordan has an infatuation with consultants," Yaroslavsky said. "I love UCLA basketball; he loves consultants, and I think he relies on them to excess. . . . I really don't even know what he's driving at."

Even Supervisor Michael Antonovich--who provided a crucial swing vote Wednesday in supporting Riordan's effort to fire White--blasted the suggestion.

"We don't need any New York consultants . . . to learn our geography and our needs," Antonovich said. "We have capable people on the West Coast, and we don't need to spend any more money on consultants."

After talking with Kiepper, Riordan called MTA Board Chairman Larry Zarian on Thursday afternoon to tell him about the idea, but Zarian said he was uncertain where he stood.

"First of all I need to know about his background, I need to know who he is and what he can do," Zarian said. "I don't want to step into something without knowing more about it."

Kiepper served more than five years overseeing New York City's massive bus and subway system, the nation's largest. He resigned abruptly four months ago, telling surprised city officials that he wanted "a more flexible lifestyle."

Although he generally won praise from many in city government, his reviews were mixed from transit riders' groups, who criticized a sharp increase in bus and subway fares and raised safety concerns over several accidents on the subway during his tenure.

Riordan said he did not talk money with Kiepper. If he can gain the support of the full MTA board, the mayor said, he wants Kiepper to advise the agency on how to develop long-term transit strategy, lobby Washington, make judgments on future funding needs and develop other policies that he believes were left pending after White's 2 1/2-year term.

"I think having someone like him would be an incredible resource," Riordan said.

In firing White on a 9-4 vote, Riordan and other critics contended that the chief executive had failed to lead the $3-billion-a-year agency through a particularly difficult time of subway sinkages, cost overruns and criminal investigations.

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But White and his defenders said he had become a scapegoat, making enemies among board members by failing to endorse their pet projects for rail construction and seeking to slow down the "money train" at the agency.

White, who will officially leave the agency in a month with a severance package of more than $200,000, spent part of the day in the office Thursday and said he was trying to keep his mind off the political imbroglio that resulted in his firing.

"I just want to put this chapter behind me as quickly as I can," he said. "I think most people understand that the political challenge in Los Angeles is enormous and for that reason people in and out of government have been very understanding."

The MTA's Executive Management Committee, headed by Riordan, is slated to begin a nationwide search for a successor next month.

Possible candidates include MTA's Deputy CEO Joseph Drew, who will be interim chief; Long Beach City Manager James Hankla, a finalist for the job in 1993; State Assemblyman Richard Katz, the newly elected minority leader who will leave office next year because of term limits; Michael Roos, a former state legislator who is now head of an education alliance, and Judy Wilson, a former MTA executive who now heads the Orange County sanitation agency.

But several of White's supporters on the board said Thursday that the agency will be hard-pressed to find top candidates for the post after this week's events.

Said Yaroslavsky: "I'm only being partially facetious when I say that I'm not sure I'm interested in interviewing a candidate who is interested in interviewing for this job. What kind of person would even want a job at an agency that treats its chief executive officer this way? It appears you have to be a total lap dog to survive at this place."

Zarian agreed, saying "it's going to be very, very difficult to find anyone who is not concerned about their future. It will most likely be someone that is out of work--someone who has little to lose at this point."

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And even if the agency can lure top candidates, Zarian said, it may have to promise financial incentives far greater than the $178,000 salary, low-interest housing loan, car allowance and other perks that White received.

"I believe there are going to be a lot of concessions," Zarian said. "We're talking about a lopsided contract weighing heavily toward [the new CEO]."

But Riordan discounted suggestions that top candidates won't apply for the job. "I think they're absolutely wrong. Good people like challenges," he said.

Board member John Fasana, a Duarte councilman who was one of White's earliest detractors, said that although the MTA's bruised reputation could be a concern in attracting candidates, "my perspective is this is still a premier job and you really have a chance to reshape the infrastructure of a community. I've gotta believe there are people out there who have seen this opening and wished they had a crack at it."

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