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Subcommittee nominates nine for transportation bond citizens task force

Thursday, April 8, 2010 by Austin Monitor

A Council subcommittee composed of Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Members Randi Shade and Chris Riley approved nine names on Wednesday as their nominees to the 2010 Transportation Bond Citizen Task Force. If approved by the full Council today, the task force will help decide what goes into a bond election proposal in November.


The appointments will cap off what has been a busy month for Council members concerning the city’s transportation future. In early March Leffingwell released a statement saying he didn’t believe it was feasible for the city to bring “a fully developed urban rail proposal to Austin voters this November.” Looking past the urban rail issue, Leffingwell proposed instead that city staff prepare a $100 million bond package of investments in roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails. Others on the Council agreed that it was too soon for a rail election but there was no official action.


Then, at City Council’s last meeting, on March 25, Council members Randi Shade and Sheryl Cole sparred over how best to name a citizens task force to select projects for the bond election. Shade proposed increasing the size of the task force from its originally proposed seven appointees to nine and to allow those appointees to come from any board or commission, not just a pre-selected few. She also wanted them nominated by a Council subcommittee.


Cole, however, asked to strike the subcommittee idea and allow each Council member to make his or her own recommendations. In the end, Shade’s proposal passed on a 4-3 vote, with Cole, and Council Members Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman dissenting.


Yesterday the subcommittee announced its nine nominations, a group, Shade told In Fact Daily, which “represents a geographic, ethnic, and area-of-expertise diversity that will serve us well in this task.”


Those nominees are Karen Friese (2006 Bond Oversight Committee), Moses Garcia (2006 Bond Oversight Committee), Boone Blocker (Urban Transportation Commission), Darwin McKee (former Water and Wastewater Commission chair), Sandra Baldridge (Zoning and Platting Commission), Sheila Holbrook-White (Urban Transportation Commission), Moses Saldana Sr. (Public Safety Commission), Perry Lorenz (former chair of the Downtown Commission), and Andy Brown (Travis County Democratic Party chair, Ethics Review Commission).


Leffingwell, Shade, and Riley voted unanimously in favor of all nine nominees.


“We wanted people that would bring broad expertise from where they live and what they do,” Shade said, “people with a good track record for prior service on a board or commission. We purposely chose people from Urban Transportation and people who have bond oversight experience.”


The citizen task force will be responsible for making recommendations on the transportation bond to Council based on proposals made by city staff. Those recommendations have to be made by the beginning of August, when Council will be required to put a proposal on the ballot.


As such, Shade said, the task force will be “short-lived. But it will have an intense amount of work to do, mostly in the month of June.”


After the vote, Shade shook off criticism of the expanded task force, the broadening of the possible boards and committees from which they were chosen, and the formation of the nominating subcommittee, arguing that those elements were necessary to ensure that Council had a “broad pool” of nominees. “We’re a very diverse community,” she said, “and it would be a challenge for seven people trying to represent the interests of the entire city. Adding two was making sure we had a bigger pool. And if we had limited the pool only to a few commissions, it might have been harder to achieve the geographic and ethnic diversity that we were looking for.”


Morrison, though she did not attend the meeting, reiterated her concerns from the last Council meeting about the formation of the nominating subcommittee, pointing out that having the sponsors of a resolution choosing a task force was a precedent-setting situation. 


“I’m not comfortable with the sponsors of a resolution being the ones who choose the task force,” she told In Fact Daily. “If we go forward with a bond proposal, it’s got to be from the whole Council, and I think that’s important to keep in mind.”

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