Photo by Caleb Pritchard
Tuesday, January 26, 2021 by Seth Smalley

An officer, a gentleman, Cap Metro postpones board elections

A variety of issues were discussed at the Jan. 25 Capital Metro board meeting, which ranged from fielding calls from disgruntled constituents to discourse surrounding the election of new officers to the board of directors and the somewhat contentious prospect of removing current ones.

Ultimately, the board postponed the election of 2021 officers for another month after a dramatic discussion launched by current Board Chair Wade Cooper. Tensions were high, as far as one could ascertain beneath the customary veneer of collegiality.

“Let me just make a comment or two and then we’ll proceed,” Cooper began his entreaty to his fellow board members. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be in the position of chair and to have represented you over the last several years and to have done some great things. My own view of this is that I recognize I serve at the pleasure of my colleagues. And I want you to know that I respect that. I don’t have any sense of entitlement to this job and I hope that I have fulfilled your expectations in this role.”

He went on to reveal that a few board members had expressed a desire to have him step down as chair, while some had asked him to remain.

“There is, in my mind, one final act to the play,” Cooper said, referring, of course, to his own career as chair of the Capital Metro Board of Directors. “Which is getting the joint powers agreement passed between the respective organizations, the city (Austin Transit Partnership) and our own.”

Only after the joint agreement is accomplished, Cooper said, would he perhaps “ride off into the sunset,” and conclude his tenure as chair.

“If my colleagues were willing, I would be willing to serve another year,” he said.

Cooper paired this appeal with the proposal to nominate Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion to vice chair of the board. Travillion previously served as president of the Austin NAACP, and his chairmanship would fulfill diversity objectives of the city, Cooper noted.

City Council Member Ann Kitchen chose this moment to indicate her interest in the position of vice chair.

“I am interested in being vice chair, and I’m also not interested in creating division. I also understand the important of diversity,” Kitchen said. “I think diversity might call for some more opportunities for leadership as chair and vice chair. And it might call for some more opportunities for leadership within this year,” she said, underscoring something Cooper had previously mentioned – that some of the board members want him out.

Kitchen suggested postponing the vote for a month, to give board members the chance to meditate on the election and to chart a path forward for diversity in leadership, “including a path forward for diversity for women.” Kitchen also reminded the board that only seven of the eight board members were present, bolstering her case for a postponement.

Though Cooper expressed reluctance, he entertained the motion.

”From my perspective, I don’t think we need to wait a month. With the exception of Council Member (Leslie) Pool, we’ve all been together for a number of years – some of us as many as 10 years. If you want to make a motion, I’m glad to entertain that motion,” Cooper said.

“OK, I’ll make that motion,” Kitchen said, while also calling on the board to weigh in on the matter. “I’m simply asking as a courtesy to allow time for that conversation, so I make a motion that we postpone this item until next month.”

Council Member Pio Renteria seconded the motion and voiced his agreement with Kitchen.

“In the Democratic Party we have a position for a female and a male and we alternate. Ann has done a great job. I’m really just amazed at the energy she has put behind the issues, from Project Connect to when we revamped all our routes,” Renteria said. “I feel like we should wait a month so we can get a full board.”

Secretary of the Board Eric Stratton expressed concern that tabling the election could mean the board would be without leadership for a month, according to the bylaws. However, the legal counsel present assured the board that would not happen.

After Travillion briefly made his case for being vice chair, Kitchen fronted the idea of Travillion being chair.

“Frankly, I would like to consider and think about whether you would serve as chair, and I think that we could probably work something out with Chair Cooper, given his interest. But in the interest of diversity, I would like to see you as chair,” she said.

Commissioner Travillion said he was honored by the suggestion, but not interested in the position of board chair, saying, “I am honored that you would consider that and honored that you would see me that way; however, I am concerned about bandwidth and making sure that I am able to do the things that are front and center.”

But when it came time for a verbal tally of the Council member’s motion – to postpone the board elections for another month – Travillion seemed conflicted. Roughly five seconds of silence passed before he finally responded with an “Aye.”

The motion carried 5-2.

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Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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