The Ottumwa Courier

March 22, 2012

New Ottumwa Transit director has previous transit, public relations experience

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — After Diane Gawronski was approved as the new director of Ottumwa Transit Tuesday night, city staff explained why she stood out from the pack of applicants.

“Diane helped bring transit to Vicksburg, Miss.,” said City Attorney Joni Keith. “She has a substantial amount of supervisory and public relations experience.”

The position was advertised in the Ottumwa Courier, the Des Moines Register, several trade journals through the League of Cities and magazines, Keith said.

“We tried to get the word out and got a lot of applicants, but they were individuals that had no experience with transit,” Keith said. “They didn’t have the transit experience we’re looking for. The only one that really did was Diane.”

The selection committee — made up of Keith, City Administrator Joe Helfenberger, Councilmen Bob Meyers and Mitch Niner and Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board Member Robert LaPoint — looked at the applicants’ abilities to promote Ottumwa Transit and 10/15 Transit and build up ridership numbers.

“And she’s familiar with charter regulations and working with the FTA and [the Mississippi DOT],” Keith said.

And Gawronski is fully aware of the difficulties surrounding transit this past year.

“[Helfenberger] and I were very candid with her on the issues that have occurred in the last nine months,” Keith said.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Gawronski said she knows Niner has “taken a special interest in public transit” and fielded many calls over the past several months, as have other council members and city staff.

She also recognized that “transit employees have suffered the negative perception of Ottumwa Transit by the community” and thanked Hagist, OTA board members and 10/15 Transit board members for sticking by.

“That had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Keith said, referring to Gawronski being married to Bridge View Center Executive Director Larry Gawronski. “If she hadn’t had that transit experience, that would have been another issue. But she helped bring transit to Vicksburg. She was on the ground floor of starting a new service.”

And while hiring Gawronski was the consensus of the committee, the ultimate decision was Helfenberger’s.

Transit’s Interim Director Mark Hagist is not gone yet, either, as he’s helping Gawronski become acclimated to Ottumwa Transit.

“We cannot stress enough how much Mark did stepping in,” Keith said. “He was instrumental in keeping those doors open. If it wasn’t for Mark, we would have had to close [Ottumwa Transit] down.”

Meyers said the city is “in a much better position now than we were nine months ago.”

“I believe whole-heartedly in public transit,” Gawronski said this week. “It offers an enhanced quality of life. And it’s a good time to ride the bus since gas prices don’t seem to be falling anyway. So I say, get on the bus, Gus. Use your local public transportation.”