CapMetro chooses Dottie Watkins as new president and CEO
A bus driver who rose through the ranks of Capital Metro over three decades has now taken the top job at the transit agency. The CapMetro board of directors voted unanimously Monday to hire Dorothy "Dottie" Watkins as president and CEO.
"It is a complete honor to accept this position," Watkins said immediately after the vote. "I grew up in this organization. I grew up in this city, and I feel like this city has grown up with me."
Watkins started driving buses in 1994 when she was 19 years old. Now 48, Watkins had served as interim president and CEO of CapMetro since May.
Under the terms of her employment agreement, Watkins will earn a base salary of $357,555 plus other benefits like a possible 10% performance bonus and a monthly contribution of $2,083 to her retirement plan.
Watkins — an Austin native and University of Texas graduate — earned praise from the president of the union representing some 1,600 front-line transit employees who work for CapMetro contractors MV Transportation, BMR Transport and MTM Transit.
"She's homegrown, somebody who started out as a [bus] operator," said Brent Payne, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091. "I think she's the most experienced person dealing with our situations."
Watkins was chosen for the job after a search by the executive recruiting firm Krauthamer and Associates. The Maryland-based company was hired by CapMetro in July for a two-year $400,000 contract to provide ongoing headhunting services.
Some community activists were critical of the search process.
"It didn't give advocates an opportunity to help shape the criteria and the characteristics that we were looking for in a new director. It wasn't shared out broadly with the community in a meaningful way," said João Paulo M. Connolly, who advocates on transit issues for the Austin Justice Coalition. "My impression is that it was a very rushed process."
Despite his criticism of the search process, Connolly said he was "happy with the result" of Watkins as CEO.
Watkins has served as interim CEO since May 23. The board of directors appointed her after the transit agency's last leader, Randy Clarke, left to lead the transit system in Washington, D.C.
Awais Azhar — who chairs a community advisory panel for the multibillion-dollar Project Connect transit expansion — praised Watkins' leadership over the past eight months in advancing infrastructure work on the Red Line and MetroRapid services.
"She has roots here, and I just generally say we're in a very good place with Dottie," he said.
Watkins will face major challenges in her job as Capital Metro CEO. Among them is the need to hire hundreds of bus drivers in time for the launch of two bus-rapid transit lines in the summer. Construction is already underway on the Pleasant Valley and Expo Center MetroRapid routes.
CapMetro estimates a need for 1,050 bus drivers by June. Right now, the agency has 872.