Gulley retiring from transit agency this summer

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 07:00 PM


Former Durham Mayor Wib Gulley will step down as general counsel of Triangle Transit sometime this summer, opting to retire now that the agency has local funding lined up for a series of service expansions.

Triangle Transit officials announced the decision Thursday, along with plans to launch a search for Gulley’s successor. He has been general counsel since 2004.

“I’ll be 65 next summer and I feel like I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my life,” said Gulley, who’s also been a state senator. “I’ll probably try some new things and I don’t know that I’ll stop working, but I’ll stop working full-time.”

The announcement was accompanied by praise from colleagues.

When it comes to hiring a replacement, “his resume is going to be very, very hard to match,” said David King, Triangle Transit’s general manager, who added that he considers it “foolish to think” a successor can match Gulley’s experience.

“It’s going to be a blow,” King said.

Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said Gulley had told her and other members of the agency board “a couple of months ago” that he was looking to retire this summer.

He “has been an excellent general counsel and we have benefited tremendously from his political savvy,” Reckhow said.

Gulley’s decision comes in the wake of the fall’s successful push to persuade voters in Orange County to support a referendum authorizing a half-percent sales-tax surcharge to finance transit projects.

The Orange referendum followed by a year a similar, also successful campaign in Durham County. With both counties on board, the Triangle Transit board last month voted to begin collecting the tax April 1.

The levy is expected to generate a combined $25 million a year and, at first, will help pay for new and expanded bus routes in the two counties. Eventually, it’s supposed to provide the local share of the money needed for annual debt payments on a new light-rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill.

Gulley was one of the driving forces behind the effort first to get General Assembly authorization for the referendum and then in convincing county leaders to schedule the votes.

The path to a vote proved harder in Orange. There, Gulley was usually the one at the podium in meetings answering county leaders’ questions about the process and the legal agreements developed to support it.

“We’ve come a great distance and climbed a lot of serious mountains to get us to this point,” Gulley said Thursday. “In some ways, I hate leaving. Now that we’ve done these things, the fun [of implementing the region’s transit planning] really begins.”

Triangle Transit officials said a board subcommittee will oversee the search process for a new counsel. Wake County delegate Jeff Merritt will chair the group. Reckhow, Wake delegate Fred O’Day, Chapel Hill Town Councilman Ed Harrison and state Board of Transportation member Chuck Watts will also serve on it.

King, who’s headed the agency since October 2006, on Thursday said it’s possible he will follow Gulley into retirement “in the next year or two.”

A key question for him is the timing of a potential sales-tax referendum in Wake County, the Triangle’s largest. Wake commissioners have yet to schedule a vote, and polling suggests the outcome would turn on a razor-thin margin.

“I had hoped and I still hope to be able to be here and be part of getting all three counties to approve the half cent sales tax and in so doing approve the plan that would be funded by the tax,” King said. “That would be a satisfying, at least, way to leave.”