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CAMPO offers new board structure

Friday, November 6, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is considering modifying leadership policies of the Transportation Policy Board’s bylaws to ensure broader representation from different types and sizes of jurisdictions. But some board members and transportation advocates say election week is not the time to make such proposals.

The new proposal from Chair Cynthia Long would reconfigure the board to be led by one representative of a large county, one representative of a large city and one representative of a small county or city. The concept was generally well-received by board members at Monday’s board meeting, but Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea attempted to halt the discussion in acknowledgement of the fact that at least three of the board members – Mayor Dale Ross of Georgetown, County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, and possibly others – will be replaced by new elected leaders come January.

“When items have been split for discussion one meeting and a vote in a subsequent meeting, people don’t really like it when we spend more time discussing it over again at the meeting where we’re going to vote,” Shea explained. “I just think we should have the full complete board that’s going to be seated in January as part of the discussion.”

Daugherty, a conservative Travis County representative who has typically sided with the concerns of leaders from Hays and Williamson counties, will soon be replaced by Ann Howard, a Democrat with different priorities. This change, among others, is likely to shift the power dynamic on a board that has only rarely been led by representatives from the city of Austin or Travis County.

Under one potential scenario, officers would serve for one year under the new process and rotate up to the next leadership position at the end of the term. Or, in the case of the chair, the individual would be eligible to become second vice chair or create an opening for a new officer.

“I like the idea of having the rotation,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “The way that you’ve set up gives different people … and different perspectives the opportunity to (rotate through).”

Jay Crossley of Farm&City told the Austin Monitor that the idea does nothing to address the board’s structural inequity at the root of why “suburban interests have been able to dominate so long” on the CAMPO board. As evidence, Crossley noted that Burnet County has a full vote on the board, while making up only a tiny fraction of the region’s population.

“The whole proposal for how the chair would work is intended to ensure very small jurisdictions occasionally get to be the chair, which is possibly an important concept … but this doesn’t address the really significant problems that we have with CAMPO in terms of equity, like at all.”

The 22-member board is composed of 19 elected leaders from around the six-county region and representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long serves as board chair and City Council Member Ann Kitchen is the vice chair. Board officers currently serve two-year terms.

Crossley said the board is “quite problematic” and needs “real changes” to end the long-standing “turf wars” between jurisdictions. He added, “It’s been a huge element of all of our traffic death problems, this type of turf war. And this doesn’t fix that, it codifies it.”

“It takes a good while to get up to speed with all the different aspects of what we do at CAMPO, and so the thought (is) having one more officer in that rotation so that by the time that person becomes chair, there would be a really good working knowledge of how CAMPO works, how the federal transportation stuff works, etc., etc.,” Long said Monday.

Several board members expressed uncertainty over how the proposed policy would play out over time if adopted. Some questioned the definitions of “large” and “small” cities and counties, which groups together counties with more than 150,000 residents and cities with populations greater than 70,000 as large. Counties and cities below those thresholds would fall into the third category.

With the rapid growth of the region and the 2020 census data being released next year, Mayor Jane Hughson of San Marcos said a better option would be to group the most populous cities and counties into the “large” categories and place the rest into the third group. Given that the goal is to ensure a broad range of representation, Council Member Alison Alter also noted that a “70,000-person city and a million-person city are not necessarily the same.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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