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Photo by ATXN. Cap Metro CEO/ATP Executive Director Randy Clarke

Community weighs in on governance of ATP, Cap Metro

Thursday, February 10, 2022 by Jo Clifton

At least 165 community members participated Tuesday night in the first of two virtual meetings designed to gather feedback about the future of Austin’s Project Connect, which is currently in the design stage. In addition to specific questions about where the different lines will be built, groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition and People United for Mobility Action have raised questions about the governance of the Austin Transit Partnership, the agency formed by the city and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority to design and build the $7.1 billion transit system.

Voters approved an 8.75-cent property tax increase in 2020, including $300 million dedicated to anti-displacement efforts to preserve and build affordable housing along the project’s transit corridors. While ATP will have to answer questions about the use of that funding in the future, the big question now is about governance and leadership at ATP and Capital Metro. Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke also serves as executive director of the Austin Transit Partnership, giving him two full-time jobs. A change to that structure would require action by the board of ATP.

João Paulo Connolly of Austin Justice Coalition, who is a member of the ATP community advisory committee, said what may be in the best interests of operations at Capital Metro may not be in the best interests of ATP, and vice versa. He said having one person hold the top position at both agencies could easily lead to a conflict of interest.

In December, ATP authorized Eno Center for Transportation to study and report on Project Connect’s governance and leadership. Consultants have released a preliminary report and promised a final report will be delivered to the ATP board in March.

An email message from PUMA inviting recipients to attend Tuesday’s meeting said, “Currently, the governance of ATP and CapMetro are structured to have the same executive director at the helm of each organization. ATP and its leadership and governance structure will impact Austin for generations to come. In order to keep the promises made to Austin’s voters, it must avoid conflicts of interest and build a relationship of trust with communities that rely on transit service. To that end, there needs to be clear, independent and well-defined relationships between ATP, CapMetro and the city of Austin. It is crucial that we ensure that this promise made to the voters will be kept.”

One community advocate who did not wish to be identified said it might be better for Clarke to continue as the leader of both organizations. The person said, “An argument can be made when you’re trying to deliver a $7 billion project on time and on budget you need to streamline and make sure there’s the greatest amount of cooperation so you get the most efficiency.”

Clarke has been thinking about the issue. In a Jan. 12 memo to the ATP and Capital Metro boards and Austin City Council, he wrote, “Over the past several months the topic of how the executive director role at ATP is filled has become an unfortunate and unintended area of misunderstanding between the partner agencies. At such a critical time for the program, it is important that potential areas of conflict are jointly resolved to reduce program risk, as our sole focus should be on how we best deliver this transformational program to benefit the community we all serve.

“I want to do all I can as the staff lead for the program, to help the two program sponsors, CapMetro and city of Austin, and the lead implementation agency, ATP, make decisions that will best position the program for future success. To that end, if my personal role as leader of both CapMetro and ATP is considered an impediment to program success, I believe a new leadership structure of ATP should be established. In a potential new model, it would no longer be the responsibility of the CapMetro CEO to lead the ATP as executive director. This would provide the ATP board an opportunity to select a new executive director who will partner with the CapMetro CEO and city manager to deliver the program.”

He added, “Additionally, this potential model would include a logical transition to a position for the CapMetro CEO as an ex officio member on the ATP board alongside the city’s representative; a transition that can be achieved by the CapMetro board and City Council amending the ATP’s Articles of Incorporation.”

So, when the final report from Eno comes back, if it points to the desirability of hiring a new executive director for ATP, Clarke has already signaled he would be amenable to shifting into the ex officio role. Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca currently holds that position.

Mayor Steve Adler, who is the vice chair of the ATP board, told the Austin Monitor he does not expect the Eno report to recommend a particular structure for the board but to lay out pros and cons of alternative structures. Adler said he expects the board to make a decision on leadership by the end of March.

Adler added that Clarke’s offer to step down as executive director of ATP was “very gracious. It shows he is being motivated and driven by the success of Project Connect.”

ATP will hold a second virtual public input meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. Sign up to speak by registering online.

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The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication to correct Adler’s role on the ATP. He is vice chair, not chair, as was originally reported.

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