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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano
County Commissioners maintain toll appointment
An ordinary appointment to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Board of Directors during Monday’s Travis County Commissioner Court meeting turned into a debate over transparency and the economic burden of toll roads.
Commissioners voted 4-0, with one abstention, to reappoint Nikelle Meade to the seven-member board that oversees the agency in charge of building and maintaining toll roads. However, the vote followed a debate led by Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, who argued that the board needs a change in leadership.
Bunch said that of the 109 votes taken by the board last year, all but one were unanimous. The only non-unanimous vote resulted from one board member abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
Bunch said there should be differing opinions and non-unanimous votes given the huge effect of toll roads on the community. He said that while “Mrs. Mead has probably served this community very well at some level,” commissioners should not reappoint her to her volunteer position.
“We need a watchdog, we need a voice of dissent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Ron Davis said he supported the motion to reappoint Meade after he interviewed her and the two other candidates, Jeff Mills and Marisa Perales. He said that through the interview, Meade proved herself to be the best choice for the position.
“My motion is based on who I think is the best for the job, nothing else,” he said. “I base my decision on what I see, not what anybody else says.”
Commissioner Brigid Shea abstained on the vote for the motion to reappoint Meade. She said that although Meade “has provided a real public service,” the board needs someone who represents the average person. She said the average person is concerned with a significant increase in toll roads, or as she called them, “Lexus Lanes,” because they create further socio-economic inequality. She also charged that the Central Texas Regional Mobility leadership has been dishonest about its long-term plans.
“We are creating privileged transportation routes for the wealthy,” Shea said.
In addition to being the most-recent past president of the Real Estate Council of Austin, Meade is an attorney with Husch Blackwell, LLP.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt agreed with many of Shea’s concerns about toll roads. However, she said she supported Meade’s reappointment because she could work with commissioners to bend the agency to social equity and the highest design standards for toll roads.
While commissioners debated the merits of toll roads — Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, for his part, said the option often comes down to either “toll roads or no roads”— they agreed with Bunch on the need for increased transparency with the board.
Bunch said the board meetings are neither videotaped nor live-streamed. He said that when he asked for the audiotape of one particular board meeting, he was told the tape somehow got broken.
“They don’t care about the community seeing or knowing what they are doing,” he said.
The next board of directors meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. at 3300 I-35, Ste. 300.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Husch Blackwell: The legal firm formerly Brown-McCaroll, a locally-based practice, before that entity was purchased by the national Husch-Blackwell. Practice areas include Real Estate and Development.
Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS): An advocacy organization. According to its web site, Save Our Springs "works to protect the Edwards Aquifer, its springs and contributing streams, and the natural and cultural heritage of the Hill Country region and its watersheds, with special emphasis on Barton Springs."
Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.