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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Slouching towards Bethlehem

"What is this rough beast
slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?"
W.B. Yeats

I don’t know about the rest of the transportation stakeholders in East Texas, but I’m beginning to get tired of the weekly meetings that ETCOG keeps calling as it pushes forward the regional service planning process at a breakneck pace. It’s forcing the process along faster than unpaid volunteers can keep up.

Of course, that could well be the whole point.

Meetings are announced without checking to see who can attend. The last couple of meetings that they posted drew comments from key committee members who weren’t going to be able to come including the director of Tyler Transit and today we learned that the entire TxDOT delegation can’t come to the March 9 stakeholder meeting at which the steering committee will be chosen according to ETCOG’s Mark Sweeney.

It’s time to put on the brakes! If you’d like to see a change in how the lead agency team is structured, I recommend dropping an e-mail to TxDOT’s Shawna Russell, Commissioner Andrade’s staff member who has been bird-dogging the regional service planning process in East Texas. Here’s what I’m writing to her:

TO: "Shawna Russell"

Dear Shawna,

I am concerned that the regional service planning process in East Texas is not being well managed. My concerns are:

  1. East Texas Council of Governments has virtually assumed the chair of the lead agency team without any formal consensus by the other two entities elected by stakeholders to serve as an integral part of the lead agency team. I intend to propose tomorrow that TxDOT staff direct the lead agency team. We’ve never formally chosen a chair of the team. Mark Sweeney simply assumed the job and nobody has challenged that and election of a chair is unlikely to ever appear on the agenda.
  2. ETCOG has scheduled a rapid-fire series of regional stakeholder meetings and lead agency meetings designed to appoint a steering committee to oversee the lead agency. The meetings have been called almost weekly with relatively short notice and little consultation with other participants. The most recent meetings will be held without key members in attendance, including a large announced stakeholder meeting which TxDOT staff members are unable to attend due to prior commitments. I believe this places an undue burden on transportation stakeholders too, most of whom are either volunteers or work at full time jobs from which they cannot be absent on a weekly basis. The whole thing gives the appearance of an attempt to wear out the public and reduce attendance by non-providers. ETCOG staff can attend meetings as often as they like. They get paid to do just that and they get reimbursement for their mileage. Most of the rest of us do not.
  3. Consumer representatives at the most recent stakeholder meeting left the meeting early. Most had traveled to the meeting via Mini-Bus. If they left early in order to meet Mini-Bus’s schedule, I am concerned that this skews any votes taken later in the meeting after the large contingent of users left. Mini-Bus has, in the past, made it a practice to pickup passengers by 2 pm in order to get everyone delivered home before their offices close.
  4. I think it is important that TxDOT take a more directive role here in East Texas until a competent and well-trusted, community chosen leadership team can be formed. I believe TxDOT should force ETCOG to cancel and reschedule all further meetings until the lead agency team can meet with full representation of all members and, under TxDOT direction, choose a fair and balanced management structure.
  5. I believe that the local TxDOT districts should assume the lead at this point and use their Evergreen contracting ability to bring in an outside consultant to guide the regional service planning process forward to the point where stakeholders in East Texas are assured that we have a process that will truly balance consumer-based and provider-based planning requirements. This would remove the need for an extensive RFP process, remove the supervision and selection of the consultant out of the hands of the agency most likely to receive funds to administer planning dollars and take the process of creating a steering committee entirely out of the hands of the agencies that will be supervised by the committee, thereby increasing the likelihood that we have a representative committee at the end. I shall propose this at the next two meetings.

Please extend my thanks to Commissioner Andrade for her attention to East Texas’ regional service planning process and for deploying staff to monitor the meetings.

Note to ETJTA members and friends: If you wish to add your voice to mine, please feel free to cut and paste and copy and send your own version to the Commissioner’s office.

Tom King
Coordinator, East Texas Just Transportation Alliance

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