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Opinion

MTA lays out upcoming strategy

The MTA inspector general's office looked into high-overtime

The MTA inspector general's office looked into high-overtime earners including those working at the LIRR. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Daily Point

Running ahead of schedule

Talk about fast-forward.

In the past, it was typical for the MTA board to release materials for a Monday committee meeting on the Friday before.

And Friday afternoon marked yet another document release for the MTA, as the authority briefed its board and released a preliminary version of its reorganization and transformation plan. But this time, the authority is working more than a week ahead of time. Its committee meetings are scheduled for July 22, and the full board is expected to meet two days later.

That gives everyone a bit of time to digest and discuss the plan, which was developed by Alix Partners, a consulting firm that was paid $3.75 million to develop two MTA reports, including this one.

But a first read of the preliminary restructuring report shows that it might not take much time to read and analyze its findings. 

There are a couple of interesting nuggets -- like the addition of an executive to head the authority’s efforts to make its trains and buses more accessible. Otherwise, however, the themes laid out in the report are awfully familiar -- consolidation of back-office operations like human resources, procurement and legal, bringing more capital work under the capital construction division, and standardizing time and attendance procedures, a particularly timely subject given the extensive reporting on overtime abuses at the Long Island Rail Road. All told, 40 groups within the various agencies could be streamlined into six departments, according to the report.

Even though it may seem like more of the same, since the MTA has been talking about streamlining its bureaucracy for decades, the report will generate debate at the board meeting later this month. The MTA also is welcoming public comment via email to transformation@mtahq.org.

But perhaps the bigger and tougher question the MTA leadership will have to answer is: When will this plan morph from just another round of paperwork into implemented strategy that fundamentally transforms the MTA?

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Bueller? Bueller?

When the MTA board holds its monthly meeting July 24 in Manhattan, a key voice likely will be missing. 

That’s Dan Zarrilli, chief climate adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recommended him for a board seat. 

Two of the city’s seats became vacant this year, so de Blasio put up Zarrilli on June 3 and labor negotiator Bob Linn a couple work days earlier, putting the ball in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s court to nominate them.

But while Linn sped through the process at the end of the legislative session, Zarrilli got stuck. His nomination has been going through the state’s background-check process, according to state officials. 

This means that Zarrilli was not approved by the State Senate before legislators left town at the end of session in June. With lawmakers unlikely to return, Zarilli’s out of luck until the Senate is back in 2020. 

What’s the holdup? State officials note that one of the departing city board members, Polly Trottenberg, had agreed to stay on until her successor’s confirmation. So if Zarrilli were taking her seat instead of an already-vacant one, she could have held the spot in his absence. 

But she already was on the way out and that doesn’t explain Zarrilli’s slow nomination process. Cuomo put up his budget director, Rob Mujica, on June 4, after Zarrilli was recommended. Yet Mujica was confirmed before the Senate adjourned, even when a law change regarding residency requirements was needed and made. 

Zarrilli, whose background apparently is still being combed through by the state, has served on federal advisory councils and been working in high-level roles for NYC mayors since 2012. 

Prospective board members’ nominations sometimes get stalled. But this is a crucial time to miss, particularly with the preliminary MTA reorganization plan announced Friday. 

The board is still controlled by the governor, who recommends more members than any other executive, but the city members use their soapbox to frame debates. 

Now, one of the soapboxes got pulled.

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Cages

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion

Reference Point

Stamp of approval

The U.S. Postal Service being in dire financial straits is a story for the ages.

Back in 1953, during a crisis that would be familiar to anyone living today, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield proposed a drastic solution — a 33 percent increase for first-class mail.

That would have raised the price of a stamp from 3 cents to 4 cents.

Newsday’s editorial board wrote, “We cannot complain about this,” and then explained why.

“As far as the government is concerned, increased rates mean taking money from one pocket and putting it in another. The deficit is made up by taxes anyway,” the board wrote on June 27, 1953. “To the taxpayer, the change makes a whale of a difference. The pockets the government takes money from are ours. Increasing postal rates means that those who use the service pay for it.” 

The board did have one gripe, though. Service, it said, was too darned slow.

“Twenty-four hours is too long for a letter to take from Hempstead to LaGuardia,” the board wrote. “From Northport to Manhattan frequently takes 48 hours. Lost carrier pigeons would be faster.”

But not the modern U.S. mail, and its 55-cent first-class stamp.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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