San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 8th, 2010
Hays County could lose CAMPO board seat

030810cantalupoCapital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Executive Director Joe Cantalupo talks with the Hays County Commissioners Court about a possible change to the CAMPO board. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County is in danger of losing a seat on the board of a transportation planning entity that dispenses millions in federal and state dollars.

Board members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) voted 14-5 last month for a recommendation to eliminate small city representatives, state senators and state representatives from the entity’s board. With the elimination of small-city representation, the Hays County region would lose a seat, now held by Wimberley.

The Hays County Commissioners Court members voted unanimously on Feb. 23 to postpone either supporting or opposing the recommendation for at least three weeks. In the meantime, commissioners said they will engage their CAMPO colleagues and other stakeholders in the hopes of reaching a regional consensus.

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), who represents Hays County on CAMPO, advocated the rejection of CAMPO’s recommendation and proposed continuing to push for an alternative board composition that entails no loss of seats for small cities and Hays County. Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) also opposed CAMPO’s recommendation.

At the same meeting where CAMPO members voted to change its board composition, the board also voted 13-6 against an alternative board composition favored by Sumter. CAMPO member and City of Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills was absent for both Feb. 8 votes.

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), who has jousted with Sumter about road issues for her entire term, said he despairs of the possibility that Sumter can deliver a favorable outcome for Hays County.

“Your ability to put together a coalition over a two- to three-year record is non-existent,” Conley said to Sumter at the Feb. 23 commissioners court meeting. “So why should I have any faith that you have that ability to take that message back to the MPO (metropolitan planning organization) and accomplish that for Hays County? I have no faith in that.”

Conley said he has received many calls from elected officials in the CAMPO region who he said are “scared to death that we are going to blow up a good thing for the MPO region.”

Hays County is one of six CAMPO members granted absolute veto power under a joint powers agreement (JPA) created last time CAMPO reconfigured its board in 2007. Therefore, all the six signatories to the JPA must give their assent before any reconfiguration of CAMPO’s board can occur. Asked when CAMPO will again take up the matter of board composition in a formal meeting, CAMPO Executive Director Joe Cantalupo said, “Not sure. It depends on what happens with each of the six signatories.”

CAMPO’s current recommendation calls for one less seat each for Travis, Williamson, and Hays Counties, and one new seat each for Caldwell and Bastrop counties, for a total of 19 seats. On Jan. 11, CAMPO members voted unanimously to request that the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) expand the MPO’s boundaries to include Bastrop and Caldwell counties. The TTC approved the request on Feb. 25.

The alternative board composition option favored by Sumter and the five other CAMPO members calls for Hays County keeping its three seats and also calls for one new seat each for Bastrop and Caldwell counties, for a total of 22 seats. The board currently has 20 seats, 10 of which are held by elected officials from Travis County and five of which are held by officials from Williamson County. Four of the seats from Travis County are reserved for City of Austin councilmembers.

CAMPO’s current recommendation for a board of 19 seats was formulated in the same CAMPO subcommittee that originated the 22-seat option. Sumter said the option including one less seat for Hays County received seven yes votes and three no votes, and the other option passed by an 8-2 vote.

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), who subsequently defeated Sumter in the March 2 Democratic primary to run for county judge in November, criticized Sumter for what he said was her failure to reach out to other CAMPO members to build a consensus.

“I think things stand on their own merits, so I don’t lobby 20 CAMPO members for this particular issue,” replied Sumter. “There were two options that came out of the committee. Both were split votes. This one — I know Travis County was talking amongst their folks, what they thought might happen, what they thought might be a good idea. I worked with a few folks there, and we all came to the same conclusion: that small cities really need to be represented. And, hence, the vote fell the way it did on the board. Travis County voted against (the 19-member option), and so did Hays County, with the exception of our mayor from the City of San Marcos. Everybody else was lock-step.”

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe ultimately voted for the 19-seat board composition (Table 2), though in a substitute motion, he voted for the 22-seat option.

“It’s my understanding that Judge Biscoe would have voted for and preferred the proposal that was rejected,” said Mills to Hays County commissioners on Feb. 23. “But as the new chair of the committee, he decided to vote for the other proposal because he didn’t want to create a rift between the chair and the (other members).”

Mills, Travis County’s small cities representative on CAMPO, told commissioners that he thinks City of Austin CAMPO members would not support the 22-seat option because it would dilute the city’s power. Mills said each CAMPO member entity has pursued its own self-interest “from the very beginning” instead of fostering regional collaboration. CAMPO’s current board structure has existed since 2007.

“It’s a little more complex than a power-grab by Austin, because Austin has nowhere near 14 votes on the committee,” Barton said in response to Mills’ comments. Barton said he and his colleagues have received requests from small cities in Caldwell County urging Hays County to approve the currently-recommended 19-seat CAMPO board composition. Conley said he “had extensive conversations with Bastrop (County),” which, he said, is urging Hays County to “move forward and approve” the 19-seat composition.

Sumter criticized Conley for being inconsistent with a position he voiced on Sept. 1, when, citing Hays County’s lack of adequate representation on CAMPO, he refused to support the dissolution of the agreement giving six of the board’s members veto power and the adoption of bylaws for the organization.

“Since it’s going to be some time before Hays County has another city that reaches the 50,000 marker, I don’t understand why Travis County can’t — either the City of Austin or Travis County — give up a seat and have another member from this body appointed to the transportation board,” Conley said on Sept. 1. “They still have the overwhelming majority…”

On Feb. 23, Conley said transportation issues of import to Hays County stand to be addressed adequately if CAMPO’s board is changed to include Caldwell and Bastrop counties, and disagreed with Sumter’s support for explicit small city representation.

“The board is made up of state representatives that have small cities, the board’s made up of county judges that represent small cities … and bringing Bastrop and Caldwell into the MPO, which what this is trying to accomplish, by its very nature, gives more representation to rural issues and small town issues,” Conley said. “That brings two votes right there because of the makeup of their counties.”

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