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County takes aim at CTRMA leadership

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who kicked off the new year in part by calling for a change of priorities at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, will soon get a shot at shaking up the leadership at the agency.

During a work session scheduled for next week, the Commissioners Court will interview three applicants seeking appointment to the CTRMA board.

Late last year, the court chose not to automatically reappoint Charles Heimsath to the seat he has held since 2009. Instead, it opened the position up to anyone willing to apply, but heard responses from only three people, including Heimsath himself. Attorney Amy Pattillo and National Guard officer Pete Phillips also applied.

Last week, the court declined to shake the tree for more applicants and voted to move forward with the interviews.

The CTRMA board is made up of three appointees from Travis County, three appointees from Williamson County and a chairman appointed by the governor. David Armbrust and Nikelle Meade are Travis County’s other appointees.

Pattillo and Phillips present an opportunity to bring more diversity to the mostly white, male board. Either would also be the only board member at CTRMA – aside from former Round Rock City Manager Bob Bennett – without a professional background in land development or real estate.

The CTRMA board meets once a month, but the unpaid directors typically spend roughly five to 10 hours a week on the job doing research, correspondence or other duties, according to Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein.

Generally, Travis County appointees have operated with little oversight or direction from the Commissioners Court. The open seat, however, gives Eckhardt a chance to nudge the toll road agency toward including more transit, bicycling and pedestrian options in its projects, as she has encouraged in the past.

“The CTRMA can and should be a strong partner with CapMetro, Lone Star Rail, our many municipalities and the counties in funding and implementing a new way forward by bus, train, bike and on foot,” Eckhardt declared in a press conference last Monday. She went on to urge county residents to bring pressure on the agency to provide park-and-ride options on its toll road projects.

On Friday, the Austin Monitor reached out to the three applicants for comment. Pattillo could not be reached, but Phillips told the Austin Monitor that he agrees with Eckhardt’s vision of multimodal alternatives to single-occupant vehicles. As an active director, Heimsath declined to comment. Instead, he referred the Monitor to Heiligenstein, who said that the CTRMA welcomes Eckhardt’s challenge.

The Commissioners Court will interview all three candidates on Jan. 28.

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