Transit authority director focuses on connecting with community

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Zach Trogdon began his new job as executive director of the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority in June. While he has considerable local government experience, none of it was directly involved with transit.

The Lynchburg native previously served as Charles City County's administrator since 2012; he also was a town manager in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

Trogdon sat down this week with the Gazette to discuss his new role, and goals he has for the authority.

You came into this job with no public transit experience, but with extensive local government experience. Is there a learning curve with moving from one place to the other?

ZT: My transit experience was really only tangential. I was more local government. We would work in partnership with transit agencies, but directly, I don't have any experience in that. There's a learning curve about that, but I think one of the reasons the board was comfortable with me coming on was because we do deal very directly with local government here. I think some of that more direct experience of working with people and running an organization in general was attractive to them. We have people here that know transit very well, so we've got that base covered. I think they needed that difference, and a director is what they were looking for from me.

How did you arrive on the idea of making a career out of public service?

ZT: It was really something I was interested in right out of college. When you start to form your interests, you realize I'm driven by this or that. This makes me feel accomplished at the end of the day. For me it was really serving these larger interests with everything going in around us. Something like real profit-making enterprises didn't really drive me. We all want to support ourselves. Eventually I went back and got my master's in public administration and that kind of jump-started my local government career.

What was the very first day at WATA like?

ZT: I think I've been around enough that it wasn't a shock. I'd met a lot of the people already, and I knew some of the players because I was working next door (in Charles City County). I read about what was going on and things of that nature. I've worked in local government long enough that a lot of things don't shock me. I realized I had my work cut out for me, and I just started setting priorities. I made a commitment to myself this time that I was going to come in and set a plan. I put together a little 90-day plan for the board that I gave to them. I knew I needed to be organized and committed to hit the ground running.

How does someone in your spot craft priorities for the organization having just stepped into a new job?

ZT: Meeting the board and figuring how you're going to get along with them is important. As executive director, you're that link between them and the staff. Just reading up on what's going on, and of course, hearing from the staff. When I got together a plan, I'd already been here about three to four weeks because I did need to take some to look and around and listen. I really wanted to figure out maybe what I'd heard or read versus what's going on. You have to be attuned to all that, that's kind of what the board was telling me when they hired me. You have to work with the organization, not try to apply your own biases or anything like that.

Is there any aspect of the job that has surprised you so far?

ZT: We're very good at getting grants, so we have a lot of projects in the hopper. It's great to have that ability to do some things, but it's also a big task to pull them off. We're really dedicated to that now, making sure that we finish things up and that we follow through on things. I was surprised to find out we have the means to do things, we just need to get them done. I'm used to working more in a scarce environment. Resources are still scarce, but we really just need to tighten some things up.

Are there short-term goals you'd like to accomplish looking out a year from now?

ZT: It's going to be very important that I do create the relationships and get WATA out in the community. That was something that was mentioned. We do a great job — we're not perfect — but we do a great job in our services and providing them effectively and being friendly. But I think establishing that relationship and that reputation for WATA out in the community is something I'd really feel proudest about a year from now. It's sometimes hard to control, but we'll do the best we can.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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