Toll Roads CEO Placed on Administrative Leave

Transportation Corridor Agencies CEO Neil Peterson has been placed on administrative leave following a series of controversies at Orange County’s main toll road agency.

TCA Chief Engineer Mike Kraman will replace Peterson, who took the helm of the embattled agency last summer on an interim basis, said TCA spokeswoman Lisa Telles. She confirmed the personnel action against Peterson late Friday, saying it was authorized earlier this week during a closed session.

Peterson and much of the TCA leadership came under intense fire earlier this month after county Supervisor Todd Spitzer grilled him over $600,000 in contracts that were authorized without board approval.

All of the contracts were approved under the CEO’s or the CEO-plus-board chair’s signing authority but drew significant criticism because of the nature of the contracts and their amounts.

There are also questions about whether some contracts were signed outside the CEO and board chair’s authority.

For example, a contract with former Gov. Gray Davis’ law firm, Loeb & Loeb, was approved by the board chair and CEO using a special authority, allowing the chair to sign off on CEO-approved contracts above $25,000 if they have a legislative purpose.

However, nothing related to legislation appears in that contract, Spitzer pointed out publicly at a recent board meeting last month.

The board chair — Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett — and Peterson were stripped of that special contracting authority as a result of Spitzer’s questioning.

Strategy, advice, media relations and public affairs consulting were common themes under the TCA contracts.

They were handed out to at least a dozen consultants, including firms involving former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, Republican insider Matt Cunningham and former Gov. Gray Davis.

Most of those agreements and amendments, totaling $593,582, were awarded in 2013 when the agency faced significant public resistance to its plan to extend the Route 241 toll road 5.5 miles south.

TCA officials initially declined to publicly release the contracts but relented after being contacted by Voice of OC’s open-records consultant, Terry Francke of CalAware.

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