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Austin Council backs Burnet County membership in CAMPO

Monday, March 25, 2013 by Michael Kanin

City Council signed off Thursday on an amendment to CAMPO‘s Joint Powers Agreement that would admit Burnet County to the regional planning organization. The action came over objections from Council Member Chris Riley.


Council discussion associated with the vote appears to set up a thorough re-examination of the Joint Powers Agreement that governs the planning entity.


Though Riley continued to signal his support for Burnet’s inclusion, he also repeated his concerns that acceptance of the county would result in an unfair vote distribution on the organization’s Transportation Policy Board. “I’m in strong support of including Burnet County…and I look forward to welcoming them (to) CAMPO,” he said.  “(But) I think we need some further discussion about how the Transportation Policy Board will be changed as a result of Burnet County’s inclusion.”


Travis County Commissioners expressed similar worries at a mid-March Court session. “(The Travis County delegation) is currently underrepresented by 7 percent. With the inclusion of Burnet County and (no change in) the vote distribution, our underrepresentation falls – or increases to 8 percent,” Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said at the time. “(Even) with the (potential) inclusion of an additional member of the Travis County delegation it would slow that erosion to 5 percent. Travis County is the only one of the members…with that level of underrepresentation.”


Travis County delayed any vote on the matter to allow Austin to weigh in. Eckhardt remains concerned. She said that everyone appears reluctant to use the veto power afforded all signatories of the CAMPO Joint Powers Agreement.


Eckhardt points to the fact that Austin and Travis County are the major creators of the region’s traffic, and thus the heart of what CAMPO needs to address. “I’m not City of Austin-centric by any means,” Eckhardt told In Fact Daily. “But if we don’t address the fact that that the City of Austin is…the major traffic generator…we’ll clog the arteries of the heart.”


CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board is the portion of the organization that oversees transportation policy. Its 19 representatives include key elected officials from the five-county region. Austin City Council members Bill Spelman, Sheryl Cole and Riley join Mayor Lee Leffingwell as the city’s representatives.


Eckhardt – the policy board’s vice chair – Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Travis Commissioner Gerald Daugherty represent the County.


Riley argued at last week’s work session that the addition of a Burnet County vote would throw off the population-to-representation ratio of the board. “Currently, Travis County residents constitute 60 percent of the population of the five county region, but in terms of the make of up of the board we only have 53 percent of the members,” Riley said Tuesday. “If we just go and add one Burnet County representative…we will then be 58 percent of the population of the six-county region, but only 50 percent of the board.” (See Whispers, March 20, 2013.)


Mayor Lee Leffingwell continued to argue that Burnet should be admitted to CAMPO before the finer details of representation are sorted out. “In the interests of fair play and democracy and being for representation for all the voices in the region, I think it will be a good bit of policy to support this,” he said.


Bill Spelman agreed with Leffingwell, though he took a different angle. “I understand Council Member Riley’s concern about this,” he said. “I think the long-run solution to our problem is not to change the number of voting members on the CAMPO board but to instill in people in surrounding counties the understanding that helping to solve Travis County’s traffic congestion and transportation problems will help their residents get to school, get to work, do all the things that they need to do.”


Council Member Laura Morrison also agreed with Leffingwell. She looked at regional growth and wondered if it wasn’t time to re-examine the Joint Powers Agreement. “What I come to is that, number one, (Burnet) County needs a vote,” she said. “But on the other hand some work needs to be done on looking longer term how it really makes sense to balance the population and (vote) dilution issue.”


All signers of the CAMPO Joint Powers Agreement must approve the addition of Burnet County. Travis County is set to take a vote on the matter Tuesday.

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