ATLANTA (AP) Harold Linnenkohl, a 54-year-old career employee of the state Department of Transportation, was elected the agency’s commissioner on Sept. 10.
Linnenkohl, currently deputy commissioner, will serve at the pleasure of the Board of Transportation, which met in executive session to discuss the appointment, then cast a nearly unanimous vote for him when it resumed the public portion of the meeting.
Linnenkohl won the votes of 10 of 11 board members who attended the meeting. Board member Emory McClinton of Atlanta said he abstained in protest of departmental policies which he characterized as favoring roads over alternate forms of transportation.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a statement, "We are looking forward to working with Mr. Linnenkohl and the board."
Although the power to elect a GDOT commissioner is vested in the board, governors often get involved behind the scenes to push a favorite. Several board members said if Perdue was actively pushing for anyone else, they didn’t hear from him.
"I could feel a little undertow, but he didn’t call me, " said Harry Dixon, a board member from Waycross.
Linnenkohl, who began working for the agency in 1968, said he’s had three meetings with Perdue since his name surfaced several weeks ago as the leading candidate among board members.
More than 70 people applied for the job in response to a nationwide search the board began earlier this summer.
"I feel like going into this the governor did not know myself that well, and in each of our conversations I felt like we were more in sync, and I feel right now that the governor is totally on board. He has indicated that to me in person. And I think it was just a matter of us sitting down and talking to each other,’ the new commissioner said.
"Where he’s at right now, I feel like he’s totally in sync with me running the department," he added.
There had been talk that the board might name Linnenkohl as an interim commissioner. But instead he was named commissioner at an annual salary of $159,000.
"We’re going to give Harold a chance to show that he can move the department forward and transportation forward," said Jimmy Lester, a board member from Augusta. "And at any time, since he serves at the pleasure of the board, we can also dismiss him. I don’t think that will have to be done because I have full confidence in Harold’s ability."
Linnenkohl, responding to McClinton’s criticism of the department’s priorities, said he agrees the agency must be more than a department of roads and bridges.
"What we need to do is address not only the needs of the people, which right now certainly are roads and bridges, but we need to address the mindset of the public and get them into inter-modal options," he said.
Linnenkohl is a graduate of Southern Technical Institute in Marietta. He was executive assistant to former DOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford before being appointed deputy commissioner three years ago.
Linnenkohl replaces Tom Coleman, who resigned in August.