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Travis Commissioners OK new CAMPO policy board design

Monday, March 15, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The expansion of CAMPO’s policy board has cleared an initial hurdle last week, as an ambivalent Travis County Commissioners Court voted to approve the addition of Bastrop and Caldwell counties to that body. Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber voted against the measure and Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis abstained. Despite their affirmative votes, both Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt and County Judge Sam Biscoe expressed some reservations about the expansion.


The proposal now must get the approval of the five other CAMPO executive bodies. These are Hays and Williamson counties, the City of Austin, the Texas Department of Transportation, and Capital Metro.


“We only have one vote of the six, but I think that we should take the lead and try to get (this) done,” said Biscoe. “I don’t know that I would feel the same way if I were not chair of CAMPO, but I am the chair. And I think that (our approval) will help promote regionalism more than anything else at this point.”


Huber, Eckhardt, and Biscoe serve as Travis County’s CAMPO representatives.


As part of the CAMPO reconfiguration, the organization has proposed to strike the portion of the Joint Powers Agreement that reserves seats for three elected officials from small cities in its jurisdiction. The court’s consternation centered on this pending loss of small city representation. Biscoe told the court that he and Huber had put together an option that would have preserved, and potentially increased, formal CAMPO membership for small cities. He said that it had been defeated by an effort lead by “the city of Austin.” He noted that Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the chair of the composition committee.


Huber wasn’t inclined to pass the measure for the sake of regional togetherness. “I don’t consider being opposed to this being a sore loser,” she said. “We put a lot of thought into the option…and there was a lot of last minute discussion and I’m not sure there was as much good analysis in the process that took place between the committee recommendations and the ultimate CAMPO vote.”


She then read a letter from Lakeway Mayor Dave DeOme into the record. In it, DeOme called the pending CAMPO refit a “significant disappointment” to his city, and noted that he felt it “does not foster regionalism in any way.” Huber added that the Hays County Commissioners Court had received “numerous” letters from small cities expressing similar sentiments.


Huber told In Fact Daily that she felt as though the “the effort to evaluate the composition of the CAMPO board” was “perhaps somewhat flawed.” She added, “it did not include (an) accurate evaluation of what composition was appropriate as (the area) move(s) forward.”


She noted that she was “disappointed” and “surprised” that her court hadn’t voted down the measure. At the hearing, she told her colleagues that she thinks, “it wouldn’t hurt CAMPO to reconsider this composition because indeed we are moving toward a centers approach that needs the input from these small regional centers.”


For her part, Eckhardt echoed the sentiments of her colleagues. “I do think that it is definitely a con…that the small cities’ representatives are removed,” she said. She also suggested that it might be a good idea for the Travis County Commissioners to wait for their Hays County peers to vote on the CAMPO retooling. As part of the proposal, Hays stands to lose a seat on the board.


Instead, Biscoe decided that, as CAMPO chair, he should move for his commission to take a positive step. He told In Fact Daily that in voting for the measure, he was “deferring to democracy.” “Part of my job is accepting the will of the majority,” he said. He added that he hopes that Travis County will be able to use the seat that it will gain in the CAMPO reconfiguration to appoint a representative from a small city.

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