AUSTIN -- For the first time in modern history, the Texas Department of Transportation is not hiring an executive director from within. The department’s governing commission on Thursday tapped Phil Wilson, who currently serves as senior vice president of public affairs for Luminant, an energy company formerly known as TXU Corp. He will be paid $292,500 annually in his new state job.
The transportation department, which has been criticized for being too insular in selecting its leadership, went outside the family and made what appears to be a political appointment. Wilson also is a former Texas Secretary of State with close political ties to current and former elected leaders, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Wilson was an aide to former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, for 10 years. He also served as communications director and deputy chief of staff for Perry, and chaired the Governor’s Competitiveness Council.
Having someone from the outside who’s not an engineer, we’ll have a new set of eyes,” said Bill Meadows of Fort Worth, a Texas Transportation Commission member. “He’s got significant public sector management experience and a background in government as well.”
Wilson since 2008 has run the public and government affairs for Luminant, an energy generation company. He takes the helm of a transportation department that for the past six years has been criticized for financial mismanagement, overly-aggressive pursuit of toll roads and willingness to turn over public roads to private developers.
Wilson will be the first executive director without an engineering background. Instead, the Brownwood native holds a bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and a master’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University. While serving as secretary of state, Wilson led a Border Colonia Access Program and a Texas-Mexico Border Affairs Initiative -- both of which included transportation-related work. As secretary of state, he was also Texas’ chief elections officer. As chair of the competitiveness council, Wilson recommended the use of public-private partnerships for transportation, expansion of inland ports, repair of existing infrastructure and relocation of rail outside populated areas.
“I am honored to be selected as the next executive director of TxDot,” Wilson said in a statement “This is an agency with a rich history in successfully building for our future with dedicated employees. I look forward to working with the agency, commission, Legislature and local communities on the most efficient and effective ways to build infrastructure for Texas.”
The hiring comes a month after the retirement of former executive director Amadeo Saenz, Jr., who endured criticism for pursuit of controversial toll projects such as the Trans Texas Corridor.
The $292,500 salary is the most the transportation department can pay him under state law, although the transportation commission may seek permission from the Legislative Budget Board to pay him more, commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi of Austin said. Luminant is a subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings Corp., formerly TXU Corp., and is the largest buyer of wind-generated electricity in Texas.