Performance of MoDOT chief to be evaluated

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The job performance of state transportation director Henry Hungerbeeler will be under the microscope Thursday during a closed meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

Transportation officials said Tuesday that Hungerbeeler would be evaluated on about a half-dozen performance goals established late this summer.

One possible outcome is a vote on whether to keep or fire Hungerbeeler.

"This is a pretty important evaluation session for Henry and for the department as a whole," said Rich Hood, chief spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation. "This is the first time that such a formal evaluation has been done for a chief executive at MoDOT."

Commissioners will be meeting with Hungerbeeler in the Kansas City area, a day before their public, monthly meeting is scheduled to occur there.

Criticism from governor

Hungerbeeler, who has directed the transportation agency since 1999, has come under criticism after voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposed transportation tax increase in August.

Among the critics of the department is Gov. Bob Holden, who without specifically mentioning Hungerbeeler at a rare appearance before the commission in September, said commissioners needed to re-evaluate the department's leadership after the tax defeat.

"The vote on August 6 was, in part, a vote of no confidence in the department," Holden said at the September meeting, calling for commissioners "to take bold action and do what you must to restore trust in MoDOT."

Since then, Holden has declined to say specifically whether he believes Hungerbeeler should be replaced.

Although the governor appoints the members of the six-member transportation commission, it is the constitutionally independent commission that hires and fires the department director. Holden has appointed half of the current commissioners.

Hungerbeeler was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

'An outstanding job'

Commission vice chairman Barry Orscheln of Moberly said Tuesday that he would vote -- if there is such a vote -- to keep Hungerbeeler. Chairman Ollie Gates of Kansas City also has previously expressed support for Hungerbeeler.

"I think that Henry has done an outstanding job as director," Orscheln said. "I think that he inherited a lousy situation ... and I think he has done a good job of developing a quality senior management staff, and has developed a long-term strategy that I think most people buy into."

Commissioner Jim Anderson of Springfield, a Holden appointee and friend, said he did not expect a vote Thursday on whether to dismiss Hungerbeeler. But Anderson said he and others have "insisted we have a formal performance review evaluation," which Hungerbeeler encouraged.

Anderson said the commission met with Hungerbeeler in June and, partly as a result of that, agreed to a half-dozen specific performance goals for Hungerbeeler to work toward between August or September and the end of the year.

Anderson declined to release the specific goals but, as an example, said one dealt generally with "greater outreach to elected officials and to staff."

"I frankly think we've seen a lot of improvement and change there," Anderson said. "I think he's making progress, certainly, toward those goals and objectives."

Commissioner Marge Schramm of Kirkwood declined to provide her opinion of Hungerbeeler's performance. Other commissioners did not immediately return telephone messages Tuesday from The Associated Press.

Before Holden's criticism of the department leadership, much of the previous public criticism had been aimed at members of the transportation commission.

The Missouri Farm Bureau, for example, has been one of the most outspoken critics because of the commission's 1998 decision to abandon a 15-year spending blueprint adopted in 1992 that had favored projects in rural areas.

In 1998, commissioners adopted a policy still in place that gives half of state road funds to the St. Louis and Kansas City areas and the other half to the rest of the state.

The commission is considering whether to adopt a new funding formula based on more objective -- but still undefined -- criteria for needs. The Farm Bureau is a supporter of such a change and also a supporter of Hungerbeeler.

"We certainly believe that for the director to be released at this point and time would send a very poor message to the public," said Farm Bureau spokesman Estil Fretwell, who expressed skepticism about Thursday's meeting. "It would appear that director Hungerbeeler is being set up as a scapegoat, not only for the failure of Proposition B, but also for having developed funding options which are based upon needs."

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On the Net:

Transportation Department: http://www.modot.state.mo.us

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