MTA chairman under fire over high-paying side jobs

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota is violating state ethics law — and public trust — by claiming he’s not an agency employee while he continues to make big bucks at other jobs, a government watchdog group charged Thursday.

Common Cause New York said Lhota didn’t have the authorization to make himself a per-diem employee and call himself chairman but not CEO of the MTA.

“State law is very clear that the Chairman and CEO of the MTA is supposed to be one person and a full-time job,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the watchdog.

Now, Lerner says Lhota needs to make a choice and either leave the MTA or quit all of his other high-paying gigs.

“It’s up to Joe Lhota to decide which job he wants to hold, but he can’t work for the MTA and hold these other private positions,” she said. “This is so clearly a conflict of interest. Here we have a person who is not putting the public interest ahead of private interests.”

Lhota kept his $2.5 million job at NYU Langone and remained registered as a lobbyist for them even after reclaiming his role as chairman and CEO of the MTA last summer, and New York state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics sent him a letter calling him on that and his role as a Madison Square Garden board member, the documents released by the watchdog show.

Lhota took a month to respond to that letter and then claimed that the MTA has reorganized the position and made him a per-diem employee who had turned over his CEO responsibilities to former interim executive director Ronnie Hakim.

“I believe that I am not an employee of the MTA,” Lhota wrote to JCOPE. “To the extent I would be determined to be an employee of the MTA, it would be based on the additional position as chief executive officer, not as chairman … the law gives me the authority to appoint and delegate executive and administrative functions to other officials at the authority.”

Lhota and MTA officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, but spokesman Jon Weinstein said before the documents were released that Lhota is not in violation of the law.

“As we’ve said all along, Joe Lhota sought guidance from JCOPE and is treated as a per-diem member of the MTA board, as all other board members are,” said Weinstein.

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