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Council looks at changes to transit partnership board

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council has tentatively agreed to consider changes to the membership of the board of the Austin Transit Partnership, with just a small change now, and the possibility of a larger and more controversial change in the future. Council approved a resolution on Thursday adding two ex officio members to the ATP Board of Directors, which is in line with what the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board has already approved. The two would be the Austin city manager or a designee, and the executive director of Capital Metro or a designee.

Another part of the resolution will allow the board to waive residency requirements. Mayor Steve Adler explained that the Capital Metro board might want to keep Colette Pierce Burnette on ATP’s board. Pierce Burnette, who is currently chair of the ATP board and president of Huston-Tillotson University, is retiring from the university on June 30 and will apparently be spending a considerable amount of time in Ohio. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes expressed concern about adding members to the board who live outside the Project Connect service area.

However, the more controversial question is whether ATP should add voting members to its five-member board. One proposal would add four new members. Council Member Ann Kitchen sponsored a direction to the city manager, which included language that would allow for those new members to be appointed once there is consensus on the issue.

“I would really like to have the new ATP CEO in place, give that person a little bit of time to kind of get oriented, you know, get familiar with the organization, put some thought into next steps and then get that person’s opinion,” Council Member Chito Vela said.

He added, “I’d like to not make changes until we have the new CEO on and get their perspective on that. I don’t have any substantive issues with looking at potential expansion of the board, but the timing of it concerns me with the CEO position being in an interim.”

João Paulo Connolly of Austin Justice Coalition, who is a member of the ATP community advisory committee, told Council he was concerned about the possibility of adding more members to the board.

“Changing the board structure is a serious deal,” he said. “It has major potential equity implications in terms of who is represented on that board, how much independence that board has and how much of a community voice there is on that board. We can’t talk about changing it without a proper and thorough process and that process should be in line with the kinds of recommendations that were made by the Eno Center report for the ATP.”

Council Member Pio Renteria, who serves on the Capital Metro board with Kitchen, said he was addressing the issue because the mayor, who is a voting member of the ATP board, “could be out for a long period of time and not be able to have access to voting. And that means that we won’t have a voice on that board.”
He added that the new mayor, who will be elected in November, “might take a while” to get on board.

Mayor Steve Adler seemed surprised to hear that and asked Renteria if he knew something the mayor didn’t know. Renteria said he did not.

Council Member Paige Ellis said she was comfortable with the main motion, which allows for a nonresident to serve on the board, and adding the two ex officio positions. However, she said she was not comfortable with adding more members. She therefore abstained on that part of the resolution. Council members Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly were off the dais.

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