The search for the next chief executive officer for Rock Region Metro is down to three finalists.
A search committee under the Pulaski County transit agency's board deliberated for about an hour Tuesday before paring down seven candidates submitted by the search firm Baker Tilly.
The finalists include the acting chief executive officer for the Pulaski County transit agency, Justin Avery. The others are George W. Brooks, metro operations director for the Maryland Department of Transportation, and Gary C. Forbes, general manager of the public-transit division for Commerce City, Colo.
The search for a leader to replace Charles Frazier started in November when he announced his resignation to accept the role of senior vice president and chief operating officer at the Jacksonville, Fla., Transportation Authority.
His last day was Dec. 10.
Frazier, a former Florida transit executive, replaced Jarod Varner, who left in August 2017 after four years. Frazier drew a $180,000 annual salary under a three-year contract the Rock Region board of directors approved in 2020.
Before taking over has interim chief executive, Avery had been Rock Region's chief financial officer since December 2019.
In that time, he said he managed the financial planning and development of a $22 million operating budget and $15 million capital improvement budget. The agency has received more than $15 million in competitive federal funding for major projects on his watch, including a $4.9 million federal award to purchase the region's first battery electric buses.
Avery has been with Rock Region since December 2012 when he was hired as assistant director of finance and procurement. Before that, he worked as a staff auditor at Craft, Veach & Company, a Little Rock auditing firm.
Avery holds a bachelor of arts and a master of arts in accounting from Hendrix College in Conway. He has been a licensed certified public accountant since 2016.
"The chief executive officer position has held my interest and has been one I hoped to assume in my tenure at Rock Region Metro since I began my career here," Avery said in comments that are part of his application. "My interest stems from my passion for and experience in development public transportation as an essential tool for communities."
Brooks is a 35-year transportation veteran. He joined the Maryland Department of Transportation in his present role in 2020, according to his resume.
As metro operations director, Brooks said he is responsible for all metro operations. They include transportation, field supervision, project management office, rail car maintenance, maintenance of way, systems maintenance, electric traction and facilities maintenance and environmental services. His area has 305 employees and a $52.5 million annual budget.
Before that, Brooks worked at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia from 1986 to 2020, most recently as vehicle maintenance director, where he oversaw 200 employees and an $8.5 million budget.
Brooks holds an undergraduate degree in organizational management from Eastern University- Saint David and an associate degree in electrical engineering from Lyons Technical Institute in Philadelphia.
"New opportunities and challenges" is he way he described why he wanted to lead Rock Region.
Forbes has been employed by First Transit Inc. of Cincinnati, a national transit contracting and management company that small cities and towns hire to manage their transit operations, since 2007.
In Commerce City, he is responsible for a transit division that operates 5 million miles, serves 6.2 million passengers annually with $4.2 million in assets. He administers a $125 million, five-year contract with the Regional Transportation District of Denver.
He also served as a general manager for First Transit in Longmont, Col.
Before that, Forbes was a branch manager at Brink's Inc. in Denver, a terminal manager for Central Transport International in Commerce City and assistant division manager, terminal manager and operations manager for Consolidated Freightways in York, Pa.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Aberdeen, Md.; and Denver.
Forbes studied business management at Regis University in Denver.
"I view this position as an opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills to a challenging position that will advance me in my transportation career," Forbes wrote in a questionnaire.
Rock Region Metro, the state's largest public transit agency, serves Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County with about 1,600 stops in the system and 49 buses at its peak prior to the pandemic.
A total of 15 people applied for the executive officer opening but the others withdrew from consideration before Tuesday's meeting.