Washtenaw County issued a press release on Friday, Dec. 14 announcing the intent of Conan Smith, chair of the county board of commissioners, to appoint two representatives to a new 10-member regional transit authority (RTA) board. State legislation creating the RTA was passed earlier this month in a flurry of activity during the lame duck session, but has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. That action is anticipated to happen next week.
The authority would cover the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. The governing board would consist of two appointees from each county, one appointee from Detroit, and one non-voting member appointed by the governor. The move to engage in an RTA board appointment process comes after the Ann Arbor city council voted unanimously on Dec. 10, 2012 to ask that the legislature amend the legislation to exclude Washtenaw County from the RTA. The council’s position is one that’s consistent with that of a Nov. 7, 2012 vote of the Washtenaw County board.
Applications are being sought for the two Washtenaw County positions on the RTA board. Applicants must be residents and registered electors of Washtenaw County. County employees, elected officials or employees of a public transportation provider – like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – are not eligible.
The legislation does not appear explicitly to exclude the possibility that a board member of another public transportation provider could serve on the board of the RTA. And a draft document containing the AATA’s preliminary analysis of RTA board eligibility – distributed at a Dec. 11 meeting of the AATA board’s planning and development committee – concludes that current AATA board members would be eligible to serve on the RTA board.
The issue of simultaneous service on two different transportation authority boards arose in connection with the recent incorporation of The Washtenaw Ride under Act 196 – when AATA’s expectation was that its current board members would be able to serve on the board of the newly incorporated countywide authority. The Ann Arbor city attorney’s office took a different view. Ultimately, the city of Ann Arbor followed nearly every other jurisdiction in the county in opting out of The Washtenaw Ride. [See "Positions Open: New Transit Authority Board" and "Ann Arbor Opts Out of Countywide Vehicle"]
According to the Washtenaw County press release, preference for RTA board positions will be given to applicants with “transportation/land use planning experience, work in the transit profession, or those with leadership experience within the Metropolitan Detroit region.”
In an email to The Chronicle on Dec. 14, Smith stated that there are “no shoe ins” for the appointments.
According to the RTA legislation, board appointments need to be made within 90 days of the creation of the RTA. The deadline for submitting a cover letter and resume is 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 21. Application materials should be emailed to Lisa Moutinho at email@example.com. An advisory committee will review applications and select between two to four people to interview. A public hearing will be held on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 8 a.m. at the Washtenaw County Learning Resource Center, Room A, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. Candidates must be available on that date for in-person or video conference interviews.
The press release states that in addition to Smith, the following people will be part of the advisory committee to review applications and interview candidates: Rolland Sizemore Jr, a county commissioner representing District 5 (Ypsilanti Township); Michael Ford, CEO of Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; Bill Milliken Jr. of Milliken Realty Co. and son of former Gov. Bill Milliken; and Carolyn Grawi, director of advocacy and education at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.
The press release also states that Yousef Rabhi will be on the committee, and refers to him as “chair elect” for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. It is known that Rabhi, a Democrat representing one of three Ann Arbor districts on the board, intends to seek the position of board chair. However, he has not yet been elected. Officers of the county board are elected at their first meeting in January – on Jan. 2, 2013.
The legislation states that the county executive – or county board chair, in counties like Washtenaw where the executive is not an elected position – is authorized to make appointments to the RTA board. Smith, a Democrat representing one of the districts in Ann Arbor, has served as chair for the past two years. It’s the county board’s custom to rotate that position, and elections will be held on Jan. 2, 2013 for the next board chair. There is no stipulation that the RTA appointments must be made in 2012, only that they be made within 90 days of the RTA’s creation.
Smith, who also serves as executive director of the Ferndale-based Michigan Suburbs Alliance, has been a prominent advocate for the RTA. The Washtenaw County board originally supported the regional initiative, but on Nov. 7 the board voted 6-4 to rescind its previous support for the authority. [.pdf of resolution to rescind support of the RTA]
And earlier this month, the Ann Arbor city council unanimously passed a resolution objecting to the inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA. The resolution called the bill’s requirements for implementation of rail-based transportation “onerous and offensive.” Several Ann Arbor officials, including mayor John Hieftje, are strong supporters of commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Wants Washtenaw Out of RTA"]
See also: “Regional Transit Authority Board: 17 Apply“