Power grab at MPO…AGAIN! Plot to neuter toll opponent, Adkisson

07/25/2009

Toll-road opponent set to lead MPO

By Josh Baugh – Express-News
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, a toll-road critic and environmentalist, is poised to lead San Antonio’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the agency that oversees how $200 million in federal transportation funds are spent in Bexar County.Whether Adkisson’s leadership will change the MPO’s bearings, however, remains an open question. He didn’t lay out an agenda for his term as chairman, but he made clear that mass transit is one of his priorities.“I think one of the things that’s painfully evident to me is that our mass transit, especially light rail, needs to be fast-forwarded,” he said.On Monday, the MPO board is expected to elect Adkisson. His two-year term likely will get under way with the toll-road debate on low heat. That wasn’t the case in 2007, when Adkisson was expected to be elected chairman but ultimately lost to then-Councilwoman Sheila McNeil.Though it’s not written in MPO policy, there’s been a gentlemen’s agreement that chairmanship of the board rotates between Bexar County and the city. But that’s not how it played out two years ago, after then-City Councilman Richard Perez left the board, which has 19 voting members that include elected and appointed officials and government staffers.

Back then, council members argued that Perez, a strong toll advocate, would have maintained the chairmanship if it weren’t for the City Council’s term limits. The council members on the MPO stacked the nominating committee and then chose one of their own to serve as chairwoman. They blocked Adkisson reportedly because of his opposition to toll roads.

Before Perez, the county and city had each had four-year stints in the chairman’s seat.

The MPO chairman doesn’t just run meetings. The chair traditionally has set the MPO’s meeting agendas, a powerful tool in deciding what does — and doesn’t — get done.

But that power is likely to be diluted at the same time Adkisson is nominated for the chairmanship.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, who serves on the MPO’s nominating committee, said he assumed the organization’s executive committee set the agenda.

“It turns out I was wrong,” he said. “A lot of it’s set by what’s actually required under state law, but the rest was just kind of arbitrary on behalf of the chair. Well, I see that as a huge problem, regardless of who’s the chair.”

Wolff said the nominating committee’s recommendation on Monday would be to elect Adkisson chairman and City Councilman John Clamp vice chairman, and leave agenda-setting to the four-member executive committee. Representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation and VIA Metropolitan Transit make up half the committee.

Toll critic Terri Hall, who balked at handing that much authority to non-elected officials, said she believes Adkisson’s would-be power is being slashed because of his toll opposition.

“That’s what they want — they want to dilute Tommy’s power,” she said. “They only think that having all the power in one person is suitable when they’re in charge. But when they’re not in charge, well, by golly, ‘We better diffuse that power because we don’t want someone like that running the board.’”

Clamp shrugged off the contention that Adkisson’s authority would be diluted because of his politics. “I just think the body should really help set the agenda — not just one person.”

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