Toll opponents score a BIG one with Adkisson retaining power

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Board’s toll-road backers suffer loss with vote

Scott Stroud – Express-News Columnist

After taking over as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, one of several local entities with a lot to say about San Antonio’s transportation future, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson vowed to “declare war” on gobbledygook. But when it came time to explain the maneuvering that surrounded his installation as chairman, he went all murky.

Maybe this will help sort through the haze: MPO members who are open to toll roads got their butts kicked Monday.

Throughout the MPO’s history, the agenda for passing out road-building dollars has been controlled by its chairman. But Adkisson, a toll road critic, worries people on the other side enough that they proposed having the MPO’s executive committee set the agenda instead.

Anti-toll road Force of Nature Terri Hall spoke up to say this would require a bylaw change and, therefore, violated the state’s open meetings law because it wasn’t on the agenda. Turns out she was right.

Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, an anti-toll road board member, moved that two issues — the nominating process and the agenda-setting authority — be “bifurcated,” so Adkisson could become chairman. The vote to separate them ended in a tie, after which Leibowitz said the agenda-setting change was outside the scope of the nomination committee’s jurisdiction and shouldn’t have happened.

Adkisson, who was already presiding because his predecessor, Sheila McNeil, had left the City Council, said grandly that there was “only one person who might see the inside of a Bexar County cooler” if something illegal took place. He was about to forge ahead with the bifurcating when City Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos reversed herself, voting to separate the issues.

At that point, Adkisson, who seemed to have planned his dance steps with Leibowitz, stood up, said, “I’m at the point where I have to turn into a pumpkin,” and left the room while the board voted. He returned as MPO chairman, his agenda-setting authority undiluted.

But then another funny thing happened. Before Hall could get to the lobby to declare victory before TV cameras, Adkisson — occasionally given to verbiage that borders on loopy — opted to “share a thought or two” on where he hoped to lead the MPO.

“When the day is done,” he began, “what we’re really trying to do in a macro sense is all about the red, white and blue.”

The goal is to improve the city, he explained, and, therefore, our great nation. He vowed to work with friends on “both sides of the aisle,” cut through the aforementioned gobbledygook and strive to make the world a better place.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, recognizing both defeat and an opportunity, applauded Adkisson’s remarks. In the spirit of such graciousness, he said, he hoped Adkisson would allow a vote on the procedural change.

Oh sure, Adkisson said.

Out in the lobby, however, both Leibowitz and Hall said they saw no reason to change things at all. And Adkisson, the warrior against gobbledygook, said a vote would be fine but called it “fixing something that isn’t broken.”

In layman’s terms: I win. You lose. And toll roads just took a step back.