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Tuesday, January 9, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

CAMPO keeps Conley as chair

After legal counsel proposed a unique interpretation of Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization bylaws, CAMPO Transportation Policy Board members voted on Monday to keep Will Conley as chair but removed his ability to vote on policy issues.

Although federal statute dictates that board members of powerful planning bodies such as CAMPO must be local elected officials, state officials or “officials of public agencies that administer or operate major modes of transportation in the metropolitan area,” CAMPO’s counsel interpreted that requirement to apply only “at the time of election.” Although elected to the board during his time as Hays County commissioner, Conley is not currently an elected official. In early October 2017, he relinquished his post as Hays County commissioner in order to run for Hays County judge.

Following this line of reasoning, counsel concluded that “for federal law purposes he is still a local elected official.” Mayor Steve Adler and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who sit on the transportation board and were part of the nominating committee, helped draft this fix.

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, who chaired the nomination committee on Dec. 8, said that there was a unanimous consensus to recommend Conley as chair.

Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan explained that it was a rocky consensus, admitting, “I still have some concerns about some of those discussions.”

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who sent an open letter to the Austin and Travis County community this morning in opposition to this solution, addressed CAMPO counsel with her legal concerns. “I’m having trouble understanding how we legally reached this conclusion,” she said.

Similarly, Council Member Alison Alter expressed her discomfort with the legalese being used.

Conley noted that having affiliate non-voting members of governmental planning bodies is not uncommon. San Antonio, he says, is a prime example of this technique in practice. “When things are in doubt or question, we usually concede to the local jurisdiction,” he explained. His jurisdiction of Hays County decided to retain him as a representative despite him stepping down from the office of Hays County commissioner to run for county judge.

Nevertheless, according to Shea, Conley stepped down from the Capital Area Council of Governments for the same reason that his tenure as CAMPO chair is up for debate.

At the vote, 15 board members were for Conley continuing as an affiliate non-voting chair for another two years. Only Shea voted against his chairmanship. Council Member Alter, as well as Council Member Ann Kitchen by proxy, abstained from the vote.

Voting for vice chair will occur at the February meeting because current Vice Chair Clara Beckett was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Mayor Adler expressed his confidence in both Conley and the board’s chosen course of action saying, “I think that the times that we’re in right now would indicate that (Conley) would be our most effective chairman.”

Photo by Famartin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CAMPO: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional planning organization for Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties. Its membership is drawn from the elected officials of those municipalities, as well as various cities that fall within the region, including the City of Austin. CAMPO's focus is on regional transportation issues.

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