Transit director taking 'crash course' as he begins new job

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- Jeff Brune can't rely on experience in his new job as executive director and planner for Cape County Transit. Brune has never supervised a transit service until now.

Brune, 28, was campaign manager for Gerald Jones, Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner, until late last week when he was hired as executive director and planner for the county's transit service.

Brune said he resigned to avoid any possible conflict of interest but that Jones didn't get him the transit job.

Monday was his first day on the job as executive director.

Brune admits he's got a lot to learn about the $350,000 a year transit service, a door-to-door, government-subsidized van service that caters largely to the elderly.

"I'm getting a crash course on vans," he said as he stood Monday afternoon in his empty office in a small, brick building in Jackson that houses the transit operations.

Furnishing his office will be his first order of business. There's no furniture or even a telephone in his office. He said he hasn't had a chance to direct anything yet. "Without a desk, it's hard," said Brune. "I might just bring a card table from home."

Brune will receive a salary of $37,500 with Missouri Department of Transportation funding paying most of the cost and the remainder coming from transit service fee revenue.

The day-to-day operations will continue to be handled by Dareld Davis, who managed a private not-for-profit transit group until it was merged with the county's transit authority earlier this year.

Brune previously served as legislative assistant to the county commission for 2 1/2 years. He was an intern for the first six months of that job before the commission gave him the job full-time.

He resigned in December 2000 to go to law school. But he quit law school last year and returned to Cape Girardeau County where he eventually hooked up with Jones again, this time running the presiding commissioner's re-election campaign. Brune said it wasn't a paying job.

Brune, Jones and members of the Transit Authority insist that no political strings were pulled in the hiring of the transit director.

Brune was one of 20 candidates for the job. He was chosen from seven finalists, said Joe Smith, a Transit Authority member from Jackson.

No experienced applicants

Smith said the candidates were from Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. None of them had experience running transit services, he said.

Landing an experienced transit manager would have cost more than the Transit Authority could afford, he said.

Smith said Brune was the board's unanimous choice as director. "We think he is probably the type of person who will go out and make it work."

Jones, he said, didn't lobby for him to get the transit director job. "Gerald wasn't sitting by me. I definitely got it on my own," he said.

Jones made the same point. "There is no controversy here," he said.

The presiding commissioner said five of the candidates, including Brune, used him as a reference.

Jones welcomed the hiring of Brune. "I think it is a good decision, but there were several very, very good applicants," Jones said.

As a legislative assistant, Brune helped the county commission establish a five-member Transit Authority with a goal to improve transportation services countywide. He served as the liaison between the Transit Authority and the county commission.

Brune said he understands transit issues, having just written his master's thesis on Cape County Transit and the issue of public transpiration in rural areas. He is getting a master's degree in public administration from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

"I feel like I can go into a situation and talk transportation a little bit," said Brune, who has an undergraduate degree in political science from SIU.

But he knows he has more to learn. Brune will be attending state and national transportation conferences in the coming weeks and the Missouri Department of Transportation is paying him to go.

Brune said he will work to expand the county van service and lobby for federal and state grants as well as local funding.

"There is going to be a lot of fund raising," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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