Golden Empire Transit fires CEO Michael Tree

Tree has been removed as CEO despite much public support from GET employees.

Bakersfield’s public bus system has officially fired its CEO just months after hiring him, sticking to a decision made last week. 

Tuesday, the Golden Empire Transit District (GET) voted in closed session to remove Michael Tree as CEO. 


The backstory: Tree took over the district in late February, succeeding Karen King, who had been with the district for over 15 years. 

  • Last week GET dismissed Tree without providing a public reason, leading Tree to tell the district that he was wrongfully dismissed and that its firing needed to be done correctly if that was the board’s will, according to a report from the Bakersfield Californian. 
  • Tree alleged that the board violated the Brown Act because the public was not notified about the special meeting last week. 

The big picture: The board voted 3-0 in closed session to confirm Tree’s firing, with board members Charlie Van de Voorde and Cathy Abernathy abstaining. 

  • Chris James, the Director of Maintenance, has been named the interim CEO. 
  • GET told KGET that Tree’s firing is a personnel matter and will not be commented on. 

State of play: Tree has been let go as GET is gutting its on-demand microtransit system, instead opting to form a partnership with Uber and Lyft for its door-to-door service. 

  • The district is switching to supporting rideshare vouchers, offering users between $2 and $7 per trip. The door-to-door service will still be offered for passengers who use wheelchairs. People can use up to 40 vouchers per month. 
  • GET expects the new partnership to save the district $2.8 million annually. 
  • The board also approved GET’s $102 million budget on Tuesday. 

What they’re saying: GET employees were not happy about Tree’s dismissal, using the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting to speak out. 

  • One person said employees and bus drivers are extremely concerned with the board’s decision, saying the board is clearly out of touch with its employees and riders. 
  • Another asked for the board to resign immediately and reinstate Tree. 
  • “It is a clear signal that not all is well at Golden Empire Transit,” one employee said. 
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