Seventeen people have applied for two board positions to represent Washtenaw County on a new southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). The deadline to apply was Dec. 21. The legislation enacting the RTA was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 19.
The authority – intended to coordinate regional public transportation initiatives – covers the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. The governing board will consist of two appointees from each county, one appointee from Detroit, and one non-voting member appointed by the governor. The Washtenaw County board members are required to be residents and registered electors of the county. County employees, elected officials or employees of a public transportation provider – like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – are not eligible.
Several high-profile community members have applied for the new board positions, including Republican legislator Rick Olson – who co-sponsored the RTA legislation in the state House – and David Nacht, a current Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member. Also applying is Richard “Murph” Murphy, programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, an organization led by Conan Smith.
Smith will be making the RTA appointments. 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 county commissioner 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. However, the county sent out a press release on Dec. 14 indicating Smith’s intent to make the appointments before his term ends.
The applicants include:
- Richard Carlisle, president of the Ann Arbor planning firm Carlisle/Wortman Associates. The firm did contract work for the AATA as a part of its public outreach effort for the countywide transportation master plan.
- Dana Debel, an Ann Arbor resident, director of state and local government affairs for Delta Air Lines, and Western Michigan University trustee – an appointment made last year by Gov. Snyder.
- Marian Faupel, an Ann Arbor attorney and former trustee for the Saline Area board of education.
- Elisabeth Gerber, an Ann Arbor resident and professor at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy. In her application’s cover letter, Gerber reports that she has been organizing “a large-scale role-playing simulation” involving 150 masters students at UM’s Ford School, to be held over a three-day period in January 2013. “The topic of the simulation is regional transit in Southeast Michigan. Specifically, the students will take the perspectives of diverse decision-makers and stakeholders at the state, regional and local levels involved in the RTA. Now that the legislation has passed, their task will be to consider questions of governance, implementation, and funding. Over 30 experts are scheduled to participate in the event, including Governor Snyder.”
- Ruth Ann Jamnick, an Ypsilanti Township resident, former Democratic state representative for District 54 and former Ypsilanti Township supervisor.
- Richard Murphy, an Ypsilanti resident and programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, an organization led by Conan Smith. In his application’s cover letter, Murphy states: ”While the RTA legislation is only newly signed, I’ve spent more than a year working with the Governor’s staff, FTA officials, legislators, and regional partners in the messy process of crafting and passing the bills, including extensive conversations with AATA and WATS staff on the particular local interests. From this vantage, I am familiar with not just the opportunities—and flaws—in the legislation, but also the context and background of its various pieces.”
- David Nacht, a Scio Township resident, local attorney and board member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
- Rick Olson, a York Township resident and Republican state representative for District 55, through December 2012. Olson was a co-sponsor of the RTA legislation in the state House of Representatives.
- John Waterman, a Saline resident and founder of the nonprofit Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC).
- Wendy Woods, current Ann Arbor planning commissioner and former Ann Arbor city councilmember.
Other applicants are Brian Merlos, Chip Smith, Crosby Beene Jr., David Nestorak, David Weinreich, Del Cagle, and Michael Simon.
The RTA has been pushed by Conan Smith, in his capacity as county board chair and as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. But the RTA was met with resistance from other local officials. 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 Washtenaw County board of commissioners originally supported the regional initiative, but on Nov. 7 the board voted 6-4 to rescind its previous support for the authority. Neither public entity had jurisdiction over the state legislation.
Only a subset of the applicants will be interviewed. An advisory committee is expected to select between two to four people to interview on Thursday, Dec. 27 beginning at 8 a.m. at the Washtenaw County Learning Resource Center, Room A, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. The committee includes three county commissioners: Smith, Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor, and Rolland Sizemore Jr. of Ypsilanti Township. Also on the committee are 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.
A public hearing on the appointments will also be held during the Dec. 27 meeting.
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