Source: Sherman Publications

NOTA director plans to hit the road

by CJ Carnacchio

October 26, 2011

The search for a new director for the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) is underway as Pat Fitchena submitted her resignation last week.

“I’m resigning because I’m an old bag and it’s time for me to retire,” joked Fitchena, who was appointed interim NOTA director in January 2004, then promoted to full-time in July. “It’s tough for me to say good-bye, but it’s time.”

Her last day on the job will be Nov. 18.

“I felt I gave the board plenty of time to interview and find the right replacement,” she said. “I would like to help train the next person. There’s some things I do here that’s never been done before.”

For instance, Fitchena sends ‘thank you’ cards to everyone who donates $5 or more to NOTA. “That little personal touch means a lot to some people,” she said.

Fitchena and her husband, Nick, are moving to Florida. The couple already owns a condominium down there.

“You don’t know how many years you’ve got left,” she said. “I’m tired and believe it or not, this is a stressful position.”

Looking back at her nearly eight years at the helm of NOTA, Fitchena is pleased she’s been able to increase the size of its fleet to 16 vans and minibuses (with a 17th coming in November) and help obtain more than $2 million in grant money and contributions from various public and private resources.

“I’m leaving NOTA in very good shape – a hell of a lot better than when I got here,” Fitchena said. “We’ve got 13 (vehicles) on the road now, all the time. When I came in, they had four vehicles.”

NOTA provides free transportation seven days a week to senior citizens, mentally and physically disabled individuals, transit dependent people and participants in the welfare-to-work program. Riders live in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships, which includes their respective villages.

“It’s rewarding to see that you can help somebody,” Fitchena said. “It’s such a great service and the people depend on it so much.”

Over the years, Fitchena’s watched the need for NOTA grow and grow since assuming the directorship. “The need is tenfold compared to what it was then,” she said. “These people are struggling.”

“A lot of parents now are moving in with their kids right here in Oxford. They just can’t make it anymore on their own as they age. The kids have got to work to be able to pay the taxes and the house payments. If they have to take off of work every time they have to take mom or dad to the doctor, it jeopardizes their jobs.”

When Fitchena became director in 2004, she told the Leader she expected NOTA’s rides to exceed 20,000 by the end of that year.

Last year, NOTA gave a total of 40,307 rides thanks to its two full-time and 20 part-time drivers. This year, NOTA’s given 30,912 rides through the end of September.

“It’s a needed service and I’ve got a lot of satisfaction out of helping a lot of people,” Fitchena said.

Fitchena’s quite proud of the reputation she’s helped NOTA develop in this area.

“We are very respected in the transportation field,” she said. “People look to us for answers. These surrounding communities are continually calling us to see if they can hook-in with NOTA.”

She’s also proud of how NOTA’s been able to provide services at a reasonable cost without having to ask the communities it serves to levy a dedicated property tax to fund it.

“We have done it much cheaper than what a millage would have been for our communities,” Fitchena said. “We don’t have a union. We don’t have benefits. We don’t have a lot of things that cost money.”

NOTA is funded through a combination of budgetary allocations from the local governments it serves, plus federal grant money and contributions from area medical and mental health institutions.

When asked what she’ll miss most about NOTA, Fitchena said it’s people she works with. “I’ve had a wonderful staff and good people working here – people that love what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s not a job you hate to come to everyday.”

The director’s position will be advertised.