Orange County Transportation Authority logoLast week, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) announced the employees of the year, honoring three top employees for their contributions to helping OCTA achieve organizational excellence and a balanced, sustainable and equitable transportation system.

The 2023 Employees of the Year are chosen from three areas across the agency: coach operators, maintenance employees and administration employees. They are:

  • Manny Lara, OCTA’s Coach Operator of the Year
  • Carlos Palacios, a Journeyman Mechanic, OCTA’s Maintenance Employee of the Year
  • Jeff Mills, Program Manager, OCTA’s Administrative Employee of the Year

“It’s a true honor in recognizing these three exemplary employees along with all OCTA employees who work so diligently to help keep Orange County moving safely and efficiently,” Chair Tam T. Nguyen said. “Their loved ones and their communities should be as proud as I am because they represent the best of the best. They perform critical work each day, so students can get to school, parents can tend to their responsibilities and all of us can get to different destinations for work, for worship and for fun.”

Manny Lara was hired by OCTA as a Coach Operator in July 1995 and is currently assigned to OCTA’s bus base in Santa Ana, providing safe, courteous and reliable service to bus passengers. Last year, he achieved 25 years of safe driving.

Lara is also a behind-the-wheel trainer, sharing his knowledge and decades of experience to help educate new drivers. He is particularly proud of his work helping safely transport dignitaries to the funerals of former President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

Carlos Palacios joined OCTA in 2003 as a service worker, then worked hard to complete OCTA’s Certified Mechanic Course before eventually being promoted to an apprentice and again to a journeyman mechanic.

Palacios, whose drive for results allows him to complete engine replacements faster than the average time, is currently working to replace engines on 173 OC Buses with near zero-emission technology, leading to cleaner air for all.

Jeff Mills is a senior program manager whose outstanding leadership on the I-405 Improvement Project helped OCTA complete and open the $2 billion project on time. The project was the largest freeway project ever undertaken by OCTA.

Mills now helps lead the OC Streetcar project, which will be Orange County’s first modern electric streetcar, offering a new and important zero-emission transit option.

The three Employees of the Year were selected from among 36 employees who were chosen as employees of the month throughout 2023. They were honored during a ceremony with fellow employees, as well, by Chair Nguyen, Vice Chair Doug Chaffee, also the Fourth District County Supervisor, Director Andrew Do, also the First District County Supervisor, Director Farrah N. Khan, also the Mayor of Irvine, and OCTA CEO Darrell E. Johnson.

The employees will be recognized by the full OCTA Board of Directors at an upcoming meeting. For more information, visit: