Greg Cook

Greg Cook

CONTRIBUTED BY LINKEDIN

Greg Cook, the executive director of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority since April, will leave the agency Friday amid questions about his performance.

Cook's resignation came shortly after the board held a nearly two-hour, closed-door session Tuesday to discuss his and other staffers' evaluations. A statement the board released confirming the split didn't say what sparked his resignation.

But Cook said it boiled down to a disagreement over his management style.

"It's just ridiculous," he said. "They want to be treated like kids and stuff. They just didn't like me."

The board will open a national search for an executive director, Chairwoman Sharonda Williams said. In the meantime, it will appoint an interim leader.

“The board of commissioners thanks Mr. Cook for his service to the RTA throughout his tenure as executive director and wishes him well in all his future endeavors,” Williams said.

A veteran transit manager, Cook won the executive director job in March over Ken Zatarain, of Oregon, after another finalist, Cindy Terwilliger, bowed out of the running.

He was the first executive director chosen by the board to lead the agency in more than two decades, a change intended to expand Mayor Mitch Landrieu's oversight of the privately managed RTA. 

For many years, the head of the private company running the agency's buses and streetcars doubled as the executive director. 

Though the agency is governed by a board of directors, its unpaid members often have little transit management experience. Putting a transit professional at the agency's helm was seen as a way to ensure the private management company is running an efficient ship.

But Cook, 68, has kept a relatively low profile in his first six months on the job. He’s said little at public meetings, letting Justin Augustine III, Transdev vice president and RTA general manager, take center stage as he’s done for years.

When Cook has spoken, it’s usually been to commend various sides of Transdev’s operations for one feat or the other.

On Tuesday, he praised Transdev’s safety education for drivers, for example, before saying he’d met recently with a Landrieu staffer to discuss the RTA’s capital projects budget.

He’s also dodged interviews about his vision for the agency, even as its future has been a subject of much public discussion as it works to finalize a 20-year strategic plan.

Cook's hiring was dogged by problems, with questions about his résumé emerging quickly after he landed the job.

Among the points at issue was an incident in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in which Cook was accused of charging a plane ticket for a personal flight to a public transportation agency’s credit card. Even before that incident, Cook was at odds with some Ann Arbor transit authority board members over his expenses.

He also was terminated from a separate job in Cobb County, Georgia.

Cook dismissed the Michigan incident as a political dispute. He also said he paid back the money he charged. He said the Cobb County termination came after his boss wanted him to relocate and he refused.

The RTA board didn’t ask him about either incident before it hired him, he said.

The RTA board also faced scrutiny for the way it vetted Cook and other candidates, deliberating by phone in an attempt to dodge public meeting requirements and speed up the process.

On Tuesday, Williams didn’t return an email and phone call seeking information on what prompted Cook’s departure.

Cook, however, said the board didn’t like his style.

“That’s life,” he said. “But I’ll be good. I’ve already got a couple of guys asking me to come do consulting.” 

He wouldn’t elaborate, saying only that he will be headed home to Georgia next week.

Before coming to New Orleans, Cook served as an interim mobility director with Atlanta’s transit system.

He was paid $165,000 a year by the RTA.

The board must begin its hiring process over again, less than eight months before a new mayor takes office. 

"We are working diligently to find a capable and qualified replacement to further our mission to provide a safe and dependable transit system for all New Orleanians," Williams said.  

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.