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Friday, October 21, 2005

If you don't want to look shifty, don't dress like Snidely Whiplash!

Dear friends of ETJTA,

We finally received a copy of Mr. Sweeney's Powerpoint presentation to the TxDOT "Sharing Approaches" workshop on Wednesday - at 8:56 AM the day of the presentation. The workshop started at 9:30 AM. We were all driving to work or getting our day started. We had 36 minutes to react and respond and no time for them to fix it.

And they pleaded "lack of time" as expected...

There was an entire page in the Powerpoint on developing an RFP for a consultant and describing a "work methodology" (read "scope of work") for the consultant. This was something that we specified on Monday that should NOT be in the presentation, but be left for the steering committee to decide how and whether or not to do.

Fortunately, an angelic being must have intervened for the digital projector at the workshop malfunctioned and prevented the Powerpoint from being used. As a result, Mark scarcely mentioned the offending slide.

A couple of days later, the rumor mill in Tyler is reporting that ETCOG has approached the City of Tyler and Smith County Commissioners to create a resolution declaring ETCOG the lead agency for regional service planning in East Texas, in direct opposition to the carefully developed and implemented stakeholder process that appointed a three member lead agency management structure consisting of TxDOT, GETTA and ETCOG.

Someone has also been spreading around among good folks over in the Marshall area, the accusation that the "Tyler gang" (ETJTA, GETTA, TxDOT Tyler District) somehow deliberately left out folks from the 6 Eastern counties and the two other TxDOT districts for their own nefarious purposes.

Trouble is, it was Just Transportation Alliances and TxDOT and GETTA folks that did, in fact, invite folks from the Marshall, Jefferson area to both TxDOT stakeholder meetings. We wrote letters, made phone calls and sent e-mails to those we knew of in the eastern counties of the region. We did this while we were pushing hard for our own consumers in our neighborhood to be included in transit planning. We have since offered the Marshall area folks all the help that JTA and the rest of us can give them to organize a consumer-based initiative in their area.

It has always been our intent to include everyone we could find. Three years ago, we started collecting stakeholder data in all 14 counties, believing that broad participation makes for a stronger, smarter process. What weakens the process is deliberately setting about to pit stakeholders from one region against stakeholders from another region in what looks like an attempt to neutralize the consumer voices that have successfully infiltrated the regional service planning process and to seize control of the planning process. By manipulating a series of political "resolutions" out of trusting city and county officials you may get yourself appointed the Great And Powerful Oz and Ruler of All Things Transit, but in the process you will make yourself some powerful foes and really hack off the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT PTN and an assortment of powerful state, national and local advocacy groups.

In the interest of clarity, I want the Marshall folks to know that I am not criticising them for feeling left out. They were left out! What I want to make clear is that they may be blaming the wrong folks. Who, after all, claims to be the leader here? Who's been calling "planning" meetings since December 2004 without calling for actual participation by consumers in the process? Who objected to the planning meeting on August 12 because it was "premature"? Who should have been making the effort to bring together the far East Texas Counties from day 1? Who's been making the case that they have the resources to do it and the rest of us do not?

For five years I've been running all over East Texas talking to local transportation initiatives from Jefferson to Jacksonville to Mineola - listening to literally hundreds of people talk about their transportation problems. I've filled up my own gas tank, worn out my own tires, scrounged money from JTA's grants for plane fare and hotels, bought meals on the road, spent unpaid hours away from work that I had to make up and spent countless late night hours (check some of the posting time stamps on my past e-mails and blog posts), creating websites, writing e-mails, making phone calls and visiting politicians. ETCOG has me outnumbered. I admit it. They can do more than me.

So why then are we just now finding out that the "six counties" have been left out and suddenly realizing that we need to hold meetings in Marshall to choose the steering committee? Why all of a sudden have the folks in Marshall suddenly become upset, saying angrily that "Tyler" isn't the whole region? How did that come about? Who could have suggested the idea that somehow consumer groups in Tyler were to blame in the first place? Even more ludicrous is the suggestion that the Tyler District was leaving out Paris and Atlanta districts when it's common practice for the district with the most territory in a COG to take the lead on behalf of the other districts. Besides, who led the way in inviting consumers to the planning process in East Texas beginning more than 4 years ago? Four years ago, TxDOT Tyler District was the one that pulled out a chair for consumers at the table in the first place. Does anyone else think things are getting a little aromatic with all this sudden concern for those who haven't got local initiatives going and don't really know what's going on and so are still a little too trusting?

It would be well to remember that even though Richard Nixon said, "I'm not a crook," and Bill Clinton said, "I didn't have sex with that woman," it sure did look like it to most of us and both gentlemen suffered a lot of misery and humiliation for it even though they were the most powerful political figures in the country at the time.

It would also be well to remember that when citizens believe they have been disenfranchised, it is to the law that they turn for help.

Finally, it would be well to remember that even though your heart may be pure and your motives above reproach, if you dress up like Snidely Whiplash and twirl your long black moustache a lot, nobody's going to line up to buy a used car from you...

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

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