Board members at the South Jersey Transportation Authority said Wednesday that they will defer to Gov. Chris Christie to name the agency’s next chief executive, but they stressed that they want to be included in the selection process.

The authority’s top position has been in question since former Executive Director Sam Donelson left in early January to take a job with a private engineering firm.

Board members insisted there has been no leadership vacuum following Donelson’s departure, but they are eager for the governor to fill the executive director’s job — preferably with someone from South Jersey.

“I believe it would help,” board member Joseph Ripa, a representative from Camden County, said while advocating for a South Jersey appointee.

Another board member, Jeffery April, a Cape May County attorney, also argued that the governor should hire someone from South Jersey or, at the very least, a person with intimate knowledge of the region’s economy and tourism industry.

“We care that the executive director is qualifed and competent to do the job,” April said.

Speaking after the authority’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, both April and Ripa said they expect the Governor’s Office to take the lead in searching for a new executive director. At the same time, they emphasized that the authority’s seven-member board should be closely involved in the hiring, too.

“I have offered my services to the Governor’s Office to assist,” April said.

Christie’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The governor has the ultimate say in senior-level appointments by virtue of his veto power over the authority’s decisions. However, the board members vote on the appointments and often wield their own power to influence top hirings.

Christie’s choice as the authority’s new executive director will oversee a regional transportation network that includes the Atlantic City Expressway, Atlantic City International Airport and bus traffic to the Atlantic City casinos.

The authority, meanwhile, has been under the temporary leadership of its chief financial officer, Frank Frankowski, since he was appointed interim executive director in early January. Frankowski confirmed he is interested in becoming the full-time executive director.

Frankowski, 63, of Mount Ephraim, Camden County, has served as the authority’s finance chief for the past two years. Previously, he worked for 12 years as a vice president and controller at Atlantic City Electric and spent time as a finance executive for another electric utility, PECO.

Frankowski said his management background, financial expertise and his involvement with South Jersey community groups over the years give him the experience to run the authority.

April called Frankowski a qualified candidate for the executive director’s job and encouraged him to put his name up for consideration.

For months, reports swirled that Christie might name a fellow Republican, former Atlantic County Assemblyman John Amodeo, to head the transportation authority. Amodeo has repeatedly characterized those reports as mere speculation.

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