- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday announced the selection of the former head of Idaho’s Transportation Department to run Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT).

David S. Ekern, 60, served as Idaho’s transportation director for the past three years before retiring last month. Before that, he spent 33 years at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“He has the vision and leadership to take VDOT to the next level — with a focus on performance, accountability, innovation and smarter integration of transportation and land-use planning,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat.

Mr. Ekern’s resignation last month came after an independent report criticized communication and morale within the Idaho Transportation Department.

The study reported that under Mr. Ekern, staffers harbored an “unusual amount of fear” over changes in the agency.

The 16-page report, first obtained by the Associated Press through an open records request, included excerpts from 60 department employees interviewed by former transportation chief Darrell Manning.

It said that department leaders failed to communicate effectively with Idaho’s transportation board and that many of the agency’s 1,800 employees reported they received “too little positive feedback” from their bosses.

Transportation issues were at the heart of this year’s unprecedented budget impasse in Virginia’s General Assembly.

Mr. Kaine and a bipartisan majority in the Republican-controlled Senate insist that significant new revenue is needed for a meaningful solution to the state’s transportation woes.

But Republican conservatives who control the House of Delegates oppose tax increases.

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said that Mr. Ekern “will have to be open to new ideas, innovative approaches and possess the ability to resist the reflexive tendency to first call upon taxpayers to solve every challenge facing government.”

Mr. Ekern will direct an agency that has about 9,000 employees and a budget of about $4 billion. Idaho’s department has about 1,800 employees and a $500 million annual budget.

Mr. Kaine’s chief of staff, William Leighty, said Mr. Ekern’s salary is still being negotiated but that it will be more than the $130,000 he made in Idaho.

VDOT has not had a permanent director since Philip Shucet resigned in July 2005.

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