Guest Post – from Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea
Brigid Shea is a Travis County Commissioner representing Precinct Two. She also serves on the board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the region’s transportation planning body. She recently wrote this open letter to the Austin/Travis County community, calling for a change in leadership at CAMPO.
Tonight, the CAMPO board will vote on a questionable deal that twists the rules in order to keep former Hays County Commissioner Will Conley on as chair. He resigned as Commissioner in order to run for Hays County Judge, so he is no longer an elected official. The plan would create a new position for him as an un-elected “Affililate Non Voting Member” and allow him to continue as chair of CAMPO for another two years, beyond the 6 years he’s already served as chair. To underscore that this arrangement is not supported by the rules, the agenda backup states “There are no provisions in the ..bylaws..that would prevent” it. Hays County will also be allowed to add another voting member in addition to Conley.
The reason this matters is that CAMPO is THE regional transportation planning body. It decides how and where virtually all federal and state transportation money will be spent in our community. CAMPO is THE gatekeeper for hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects and toll roads in our area.
During Conley’s time as chair, CAMPO has been overly focused on toll roads and highways. It has largely ignored the kind of innovative solutions other regions like Dallas, Denver, Nashville and Chicago have invested in to great competitive advantage. During this time, CAMPO has been openly hostile to multimodal solutions to our congestion problems and recklessly dismantled the only commuter rail authority between Austin and San Antonio, (Lone Star Rail) with minimal debate.
The balance of representation has also shifted, putting Austin and Travis County in the minority. Austin and Travis County represent 57% of the population of this region but is the minority on the policy board and holds only 25% of the votes on CAMPO’s Technical Advisory Committee as reported by the Austin Monitor.
There is an enormous fiduciary responsibility to make sure we are properly representing the biggest part of the region’s population. We also have a duty to pursue meaningful transportation alternatives that don’t require everyone to own a car. Austin is labeled the most economically segregated metro area in the country and yet CAMPO’s chief approach to transportation needs is to support the costliest option: toll roads.
Should Hays County have 8 years of continuous leadership at the expense of Austin/Travis County having our turn? Not according to Sen. Kirk Watson. In his farewell letter to CAMPO in November 2009, he wrote, “I will strongly encourage the Board to adopt a system that regularly rotates the position of Policy Board Chair among the different members.” His whole letter is here.
Furthermore, it is customary practice when someone resigns from public office that they also step down from board and commission seats they held because of their elected status. Sarah Eckhart played by those rules and stepped down as Vice Chair of CAMPO when she resigned as Travis County Commissioner to run for County Judge in 2014–the exact same circumstances that Conley is in today. Conley even stepped down recently from his position on CAPCOG for that very reason. He should do the right thing and step down from CAMPO as Sarah did. This is not about individual personalities, it is about good governance.
Community leaders need to weigh in. CAMPO is making decisions on hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation funding. I am asking the Austin Chambers of Commerce, major employers, the University of Texas and other universities, ACC, small businesses, neighborhood groups and community leaders all over our city and county to help make sure that the people of Austin and Travis County get the transportation systems they need for the future.
If you agree that it is time for Austin/Travis to have its turn as CAMPO Chair, please email the CAMPO board (firstname.lastname@example.org) or come to the meeting at UT Thompson Conference Centertonight, January 8, at 6pm and speak out. Respectfully ask that Conley step down and for the Board to elect a member of the Austin/Travis delegation as Chair.
In the name of good governance and responsible, equitable transportation policy and funding, thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
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