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Conley to resign as CAMPO chairman

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Before adjourning Monday’s meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, chair Will Conley, who has held the chairmanship since first being elected in January 2012, announced his intention to resign from the Transportation Policy Board in the coming weeks.

Citing life changes and new directions as reasons for his resignation, Conley noted that, according to the board’s decision, he would not be required to step down from the board for another year. Generating a small wave of controversy in January 2018, the board chose to allow Conley to keep the chairmanship and serve as an affiliated nonvoting member despite no longer being an elected official. Conley has held no public office since leaving his Hays County post in October 2017.

To make up for the lost vote, Hays County then appointed Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones to replace Conley as its elected representative. The arrangement allowed for Conley to serve two years in this capacity, regardless of whether or not he was elected Hays County judge as he had hoped to be in November 2018.

“The past year, to me, has been special,” Conley told the board on Monday evening. “For the past year I’ve had the distinct honor of being a representative of the region, and I’m the only one that’s held that honor. I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for giving me that opportunity.”

Prior to the board’s unprecedented decision last January, Commissioner Brigid Shea urged the public to ask her fellow board members to reject the proposal. Shea claimed that CAMPO needed bold leadership from Austin or Travis County – which represent well over half the region’s population – to take the organization’s attention off rural counties and toll roads and begin to address alternative transportation solutions and the needs of urban residents.

Speaking to the Monitor in an interview in December, Shea expressed her hope that Austin Mayor Steve Adler become chair in the near future, saying that, while she has nothing against Conley personally, he has not adequately addressed the transportation and environmental needs of the region’s urban core.

Conley represented Hays County as Precinct 3 commissioner from 2004-16. His election as chair of the board marked the first time the organization had been led by someone from outside Austin or Travis County. Another shift occurred with the election of Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett as the board’s vice chair in 2015, leaving Austin/Travis County without any representation on the board’s leadership for the first time ever, a situation lasting until Beckett was replaced by Adler in February 2018.

With Adler now serving as vice chair and Conley’s resignation, the CAMPO board’s leadership may have an opportunity to reverse this trend and develop a renewed focus on urban transportation and regional alternative transportation solutions connecting the surrounding counties to the city of Austin.

When asked for comment about CAMPO’s future, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said board leadership will now probably be the result of a competition between board members Adler and Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long.

Eckhardt, who helped Conley stay on as chair last January, also said he did a great job on the CAMPO board. “We don’t always agree but he’s a worthy opponent and always a fair player,” she said.

After submitting his resignation letter in the next couple of weeks, Conley said he will continue to serve the board until CAMPO’s nine-member Executive Committee directs him to bring an action item to the board for the selection of a new chair.

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