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Cowman wins Cap Metro member cities vote

Friday, October 16, 2009 by Austin Monitor

It’s been a busy few weeks for Capital Metro.


First came President/CEO Fred Gilliam’s Sept. 30 announcement that he would be retiring on Oct. 16, followed two weeks later by the appointment of the agency’s Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Doug Allen to the position of interim President/CEO.


Then came the news this past Tuesday that Cap Metro Board Chair, and Travis County Commissioner, Margaret Gomez, would not be seeking the Travis County appointment to the new board of directors, which will convene at the start of the new year. Gomez has led the board since 2008, during which time the agency has been plagued by difficulties with the long-anticipated commuter rail line, Capital MetroRail, and decreasing tax revenue.


Yesterday Cap Metro board member and Leander Mayor John Cowman got into the mix.


On Thursday Cowman and his six colleagues on the “small member cities” appointment panel named him their representative on the Cap Metro Board of Directors. This came after the Leander City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to support Council Member David Siebold for the position. (Currently, Cowman is the Williamson County representative on the Cap Metro board, an appointment that expires next August. The small member cities position comes with a three-year term.)


After the Leander vote, Cowman had asked city attorney Barney Knight if the Council had any legal authority to force him to vote for Siebold at the small member cities meeting, and Knight told him they did not.


“As the mayor of Leander, it’s my vote, not the Council’s vote,” Cowman told In Fact Daily. “And I think now the Council, or at least most of the Council, understands what’s going on. The concern in the Council was that Leander would lose a vote, because I would have to resign the Williamson County seat to go after the small cities seat. And then what if I didn’t win? Now Leander has no voice. That was a big concern of the Council’s. That was incorrect. We found out that I did not have to resign, that my Williamson County seat was safe. Though I will be resigning it now. Once more facts came forward I think a level of comfort was established that what I was doing and why I was doing it was appropriate.”


This is not the way Siebold sees it, however. The long-time Council member and Alliance for Public Transportation board member believes that Cowman ignored the will of the Leander City Council by voting for himself. “He’s putting the priority of his own personal agenda over the city,” Siebold told In Fact Daily, “and now he’s got to deal with a Council that he’s defied what their vote was. I don’t know how he plans to handle that. I’m upset, and expect that there’s going to some concern with other Council members.”


The small member cities panel is made up of the mayors from the seven non-Austin cities that are part of Cap Metro’s service area: San Leanna, Volente, Point Venture, Leander, Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Manor.


After a brief tussle with a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order over the best way to conduct a plurality vote, the panel voted 4-3 in favor of Cowman to fill the position vacated by former Manor City Council member Jamie Jatzlau, who is no longer eligible to serve on the Cap Metro board after resigning her Council seat in August. Along with Cowman himself, the panelists who voted in favor of Cowman’s appointment were Joel Chapa (San Leanna), Randy Kruger (Lago Vista), and Joe Sanchez (Manor). The other three panelists – Jan Yenawine (Volente), Richard Shinn (Point Venture), and Deane Armstrong (Jonestown) – voted for Lance Wedell, a Jonestown Alderman.


Siebold (who, interestingly enough, was nominated by Cowman) received no votes.


Yenawine expressed concern with the direction Capital Metro has taken the last few years, particularly with bus and van services being cut in small member cities while funding for commuter rail increased. Shinn concurred, telling the panel that Cap Metro is “already cutting services for people who can’t afford cars.”


Cowman will complete the remainder of Jatzlau’s term, which is set to end on Dec. 31, and will begin his three-year term when the board reconvenes Jan.1.

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