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News / Clark County News

C-Tran’s incoming CEO started career as bus driver, has worked as transit manager since 2021

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 23, 2024, 6:03am
2 Photos
Leann Caver is taking over as C-Tran CEO effective March 1. Outgoing CEO, Shawn Donaghy, right, is relocating to the San Diego area.
Leann Caver is taking over as C-Tran CEO effective March 1. Outgoing CEO, Shawn Donaghy, right, is relocating to the San Diego area. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On the back wall of Leann Caver’s new office is a sign with C-Tran’s mission statement on it: “C-Tran connects people to opportunities, supports economic vitality, and enhances the quality of life for the community.”

“It’s a reality check every day,” said Caver, who started her transit career as a bus driver.

On March 1, she will take over for CEO Shawn Donaghy, who was hired as the CEO of a transit agency in San Diego County, Calif. Caver said she will work to build on Donaghy’s accomplishments at C-Tran. The transit agency won two North American Transit System of the Year awards in 2019 and 2022.

After 17 years at TriMet in Oregon, Caver applied to C-Tran in 2021 because she wanted to work in the community where she lived and thought it would propel her career. She was a manager at TriMet but applied for an assistant manager position at C-Tran.

“Sometimes you have to take a step backward to move forward,” Caver said.

Donaghy was on the panel that interviewed Caver. He said he recognized Caver’s ability immediately.

“Man, I’m telling you,” Donaghy recalled saying to the panel after the interview, “that’s probably the next leader of our organization.”

Instead of offering Caver the assistant manager position, Donaghy and the hiring team offered her a manager-level position. Caver has served as director of organizational development and diversity, equity and inclusion, chief operations officer and deputy CEO.

After Donaghy announced he was leaving C-Tran late last year, a subcommittee of C-Tran’s board of directors examined the next steps for finding a new CEO.

“We realized we have a candidate right here that a recruitment agency would probably have given to us,” said Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, chairwoman of C-Tran’s board. “When you look at the fact she started driving buses and worked her way up the ladder and has all the certifications and leadership (experience) … we said let’s rethink this, because the recruiters are probably going after her for all of these jobs across the nation.”

Hiring in-house also allowed for continuity, as C-Tran officials are planning two additional bus rapid transit lines, navigating operator shortages and a partnering on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program.

At February’s board meeting, Donaghy’s last, Caver spoke of the high bar Donaghy set.

“I will do my best to fill his shoes and we will make our mark moving forward in this community,” Caver said at the board meeting.

The comment made McEnerny-Ogle think of Donaghy’s extensive shoe collection, which includes hand-painted Vancouver Volcanoes basketball shoes.

“I had to laugh,” McEnerny-Ogle. “And I kept thinking of all of Shawn’s shoes and I said, ‘No, no, Leann, you don’t want Shawn’s shoe closet. I’ve seen those shoes, they’re lovely, but you have your own shoes to wear. You are the CEO.’”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer