Metro workers connect the special treatment of supervisors with long-festering issues at the City’s transit agency.
Three of Metro Transit’s newest supervisors received relocation reimbursement packages of up to $12,000 for one and $15,000 for the other two, City of Madison records show. But the City’s official relocation reimbursement policy states that departments “may authorize relocation expenses up to $6,000.00.” The policy does give the City some discretion to go higher, stating: “For employees under management contracts, any additional cost is negotiable in context of the employee’s overall compensation package.”
On top of that, the reimbursement payments the City made to two of the three new hires for moving expenses far exceeds the $15,000 they were each allotted. One has received more than $23,000; another, more than $41,000. (In addition to their base salaries, which exceed $135,000 each.)
Current and recently retired employees at Madison’s bus agency told Tone Madison that these hefty payouts are part of a pattern under general manager Justin Stuehrenberg of Metro management either not knowing the rules or trying to get around them.
Why have a policy at all?
In January, the City announced the hiring of three new managers at Metro: Rachel Johnson as chief administration officer, Ayodeji Arojo as chief operating officer, and Anthony DiCristofano as chief maintenance officer.
Tone Madison received unsigned draft contracts in February from the City through an open records request which showed DiCristofano’s contract granted him a relocation “maximum reimbursement” of $12,000. Arojo’s and Johnson’s contracts set their reimbursements at $15,000, “plus the fee for the commercial carrier.”
Through the same records request, the City released on Feb. 24 the pay histories of DiCristofano, Arojo, and Johnson to Tone Madison. As of that date, there was no record of DiCristofano receiving reimbursement for moving expenses. On Dec. 9, Johnson received $19,669.63 for moving expenses, and on Feb. 17, she received another $4,000, for a total of $23,669.63. Arojo received $18,380.78 on Jan. 20 and $23,446.30 on Feb. 3, for a total of $41,827.08.
In an email, Stuehrenberg told Tone Madison, “Both employees provided the documentation of multiple quotes for moving companies. The cost of [hiring] a moving company to move across the country is quite high.”
Erin Hillson, the City of Madison’s Human Resources Director, told Tone Madison in an email that the City does “regularly negotiate higher relocation costs than the amount in the [relocation policy] for those under individual management contracts like those you mention below, both inside and outside of Metro Transit.”
“While I was not the HR Director when these contracts were negotiated, I should mention that as our labor market continues to have excessively low unemployment it would not be unusual for the managers we hire to come from a wider area and to negotiate relocation expenses that reflect the increased costs of these expenses,” Hillson wrote. ” Finally, I would mention that the APM [Administrative Procedure Memorandum, referring to the relocation expenses policy] you reference has not been updated since 2008, and so the relocation costs reflected on the APM have not increased for 15 years, even with rising inflation.”
One Metro employee who has been with the City for almost two decades disputes the idea that such hefty reimbursements for moving costs are common.
“It’s never been done,” the employee says. “Never.”
A free ride
Multiple Metro Transit employees, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told Tone Madison that up until very recently, Metro supervisors were picking up Arojo from his home in Middleton to drive him to work, and driving him home after work.
“We [were] sending road supervisors, who are supposed to be available to our drivers, all the way to Middleton to pick up and drop off this one person,” one Metro employee says.
First, employees said supervisors being picked up and dropped off at their homes has never been done before. Supervisors are encouraged to ride the bus a few times a week because “it’s the business you’re in—the bus business,” as one employee says. But a supervisor being picked up and dropped off by a city employee in a city vehicle is unheard of.
Second, Arojo’s contract states that he is required to live within the city limits.
After other employees reported Arojo’s rides to the City’s Human Resources department, they were stopped.
“While it isn’t an uncommon practice in other cities to ride along with supervisors to build relationships, Ayodeji has recognized that this is not a part of Metro’s culture and has stopped this practice,” Stuehrenberg says. “As we all know, housing in Madison is very difficult to find and that’s especially true of temporary housing, and Ayodeji had to take what he could find at the time. However, he has a lease signed in the City of Madison, starting in April.”
A mess in the bus business
Current and former Metro employees told Tone Madison that “[Metro] has been a mess the last three years,” in part due to the pandemic, but also due to poor management. They described the work environment as “very chaotic,” “very hostile,” “a lot of micromanagement,” and creating a culture of favoritism, resulting in “low morale.”
Many also expressed confusion about why Metro is being restructured the way it is—new management positions, job descriptions being changed multiple times, pay structure changes—and why all these new people were hired when the City predicts it will soon hit a budget shortage.
“There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on there,” one employee says. “All of a sudden the supervisors are getting supervisors… Instead of leaving management as it was when [Stuehrenberg] came in, he hired all new management.”
Stuehrenberg says he “heard similar feedback about the organization from before I started here, and I don’t fault some for still feeling this way.”
“There is no doubt that there are still challenges that I’m committed to tackling, but I feel strongly that we’ve made great strides in many areas,” Stuehrenberg wrote in his email to Tone Madison. “We’re addressing the chronic understaffing that plagued the organization prior to my arrival. We’ve installed restrooms for drivers to use on the routes. And we ratified a new union contract in unprecedented time. But there are many more big changes coming that require additional staff capacity and expertise, and that is what I’m trying to build. Those changes are a bit chaotic, and aren’t complete yet, so staff hasn’t yet seen the benefits. I’m confident they will.”
Some say the new employees, who are not familiar with union policies, are another avenue for skirting union rules. This follows City officials’ effort in 2022 to re-classify four Metro employees so that they’d no longer be eligible for membership in the union that represents Metro workers, Teamsters Local 695. Ultimately, the City succeeded in removing only one employee from the union. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission ruled that the other three could remain union members.
“[Stuehrenberg] hired these new [supervisors] so he can get them to direct the workers the way he wants them to be directed, not following union rules, and doing things the way he wants them to do,” one employee says.
“I would never ask staff to not follow union rules or do anything else unethical, so that part is simply untrue,” Stuehrenberg says.
Overall, employees expressed disappointment. Some employees said they had planned to stay longer, but decided to take early retirement because of how the department is being run.
“We heard that we’re getting new staff and were excited about change,” one says. “But it seems like the change is going in the wrong direction.”
Editor’s note (March 22, 2023): This story has been updated with additional context about the discretion City policy provides for providing relocation expenses over $6,000, and the headline has been updated to reflect that the payouts described did not technically violate the policy.