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Hampton Roads Transit chief Townes retires

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Michael Townes, the embattled CEO of Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia said that he would retire at the end of September and step down as CEO and president of the agency on Jan. 31, according to the Hampton Roads Daily Press. Townes had been under mounting pressure to step down after costs of the Norfolk light-rail project, the first in the state was over budget by nearly $100 million.

Townes submitted his
letter informing the board of his retirement at a special meeting of HRT’s
board, called by several of his supporters to discuss recent issues regarding
the project and Townes performance.

"Thank you for the
opportunity to have served the Hampton Roads Community," he said in the letter.
Townes became president of HRT in 1999 when PenTran merged with Tidewater
Regional Transit.

Townes said Monday
evening that he was satisfied with his career at HRT.

"I’ve got a pretty darn
good legacy here," he said. Townes said he planned to retire already but that
he "accelerated the process a bit."

Several board members
appeared exhausted after the meeting. Vice-Chairman of the HRT Board Randy
Wright, who helped lead the charge for Townes’ ouster and said the two were
close like brothers hugged several members, releasing a long breath before
embracing Newport News City Councilwoman Pat Woodbury, who also sits on the
board.

"It was a magnanimous
gesture in my mind," Wright said, referring to Townes’ decision. Wright, who
sits on Norfolk City Council, declined to comment on several accusations that
Townes made in a recent Daily Press interview that Wright and board chairman
Jim Wood were aware of cost overruns in the project, but pressured Townes not
to come forward with them to Norfolk City Council.

Wright said he was
remorseful that things had reached this level. "This project is larger than any
one person," he said. "Including Michael Townes and Randy Wright." Several
South Side officials, including Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said they
would not pursue the light-rail project until leadership changed at HRT.

Board members said they
were not aware Townes planned to resign during the meeting, which was held
largely in closed session because personnel issues were being discussed. Wood
said Townes submitted the letter a half hour into the meeting.

Under the agreement,
Townes will remain employed by the Transportation District Commission of
Hampton Roads, which oversees HRT to help solicit federal and state funds for
the light-rail project. He will also receive a year’s salary as severance pay,
$179,683 starting in September.

Washington called for the
special meeting, along with Newport News Vice-Mayor Joe Whitaker and citizen
board member Grace Routten after disgruntlement with how Wood and Wright had
called for his resignation before meeting with the full board. Townes told the
Daily Press last week that he had no intention of resigning and that a majority
of the board would back him. But Monday, he appeared somber after his
retirement was announced and left immediately after the meeting.

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