Five Finalists To Be Interviewed for RTA Board

Five candidates will be interviewed on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 for two board positions to represent Washtenaw County on a new southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). The finalists are: (1) David Nacht, a Scio Township resident, local attorney and board member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; (2) Richard “Murph” Murphy, an Ypsilanti resident and programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance; (3) John Waterman, a Saline resident and founder of the nonprofit Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC); (4) Liz Gerber, an Ann Arbor resident and professor at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy; and (5) Wendy Woods, current Ann Arbor planning commissioner and former Ann Arbor city councilmember.

Seventeen people had submitted applications by the Dec. 21 deadline. In an email sent to the media on Dec. 26, Conan Smith – chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – indicated that another candidate, Lou Kasman, had also contended that he had submitted an application on time, though county staff could not find it. Even so, Kasman’s application was also reviewed, Smith said, but Kasman was not selected as a finalist.

Created by state legislation during the lame duck session earlier this month, the authority covers the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw, and is intended to coordinate regional public transportation initiatives. As county board chair, Smith – who also serves as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance – is empowered to make the appointments. A new chair will be elected at the county board’s Jan. 2 meeting. If the appointments aren’t made by then, it would fall to the next chair to make them. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Regional Transit Authority Board: 17 Apply.

Interviews and a public hearing – all open to the public – will be held at the Washtenaw County Learning Resource Center, Room A, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. The doors open at 8 a.m. with the first interview beginning at 8:45 a.m with Nacht, followed by Murphy (9:20 a.m.), Waterman (9:55 a.m.), Gerber (10:30 a.m.) and Woods (11:05 a.m.) Three of the five finalists – Nacht, Gerber and Woods – will be interviewed via Skype.

The selection 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.

Grawi and potentially Milliken will also be participating via Skype, according to Smith.


  1. By Jack Eaton
    December 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm | permalink

    It would be very unfortunate if Conan Smith, Executive Director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, appointed Richard Murphy, Place Programs Director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, to the RTA Board. He has already demonstrated an innate inability to separate his professional role as an employee of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance from his role as an elected member of the County Board of Commissioners. Appointing a person who is subordinate to him at his “day job” continues that insensitivity.

    On the other hand, appointing David Nacht, a member of the AATA Board, would provide Mr. Nacht a face saving way to remove himself from the disastrous failure of the Countywide transit plan. While the RTA law does not disqualify a member of the AATA Board from serving on the RTA Board, those positions would likely be found to violate the incompatible offices law. This was the case in the similar relationship between the AATA and the Countywide transit authority boards. [link]

  2. By David Cahill
    December 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm | permalink

    So – the two candidates I predicted would be appointed (Murphy and Nacht) have made it into the finals!

  3. By Ken
    December 27, 2012 at 10:15 am | permalink

    @Jack, do we have any idea as to what effect the RTA will have on the Federal money U-M receives for the M-Ride program? In theory, the RTA will take control of this money, and may or may not forward this to AATA to continue the program.

    I am also hearing that by this time next year DDOt and SMART will be merged under the control of the RTA. That said, AATA stands to get a smaller piece of the pie should they decide to remain independent. This scenario is similar to what had happened in the Cleveland area as the last holdouts (North Olmsted and Maple Heights) finally were absorbed into the RTA several years ago due to reduced funding by the RTA.

  4. By Jack Eaton
    December 27, 2012 at 11:15 am | permalink

    Re (3): Ken, the RTA will act as a pass through agency for federal funds. It should not be able to divert federal funds from AATA to other agencies. I don’t know the details of the M-RIde funding. If the FTA provides operating assistance to AATA for that program, I would expect that funding to be unaffected by the RTA.

    On the other hand, the RTA law requires AATA, SMART and DDOT to get permission for any grant applications made to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Thus, AATA could lose out on some discretionary funds, such as the kind it received for the new Blake Center, if the RTA refused to approve a particular grant application. Federal operating assistance should be unaffected.

    I have not heard anything about merging DDOT and SMART. The RTA law does not expressly provide for such merger. The law allows the RTA to absorb other transit agencies, but with strict limits regarding liabilities (such as pension plans). The new RTA will act as the funding pass through agency for federal and state transit funds. It will also “coordinate” services provided by those transit providers. It should be noted that under the prior law that formed SMART, the coordination of services was to be handled by the RTCC (which is also the pass through agency now). The RTCC has been particularly ineffective in coordinating services.

    The long term plan may be to use the RTA entity to effectuate the merger of SMART and DDOT. At this point, the RTA law does not provide any funding to replace the Detroit general revenue support of DDOT. Without a means to replace the many millions of dollars Detroit devotes to its transit service, it is unlikely that DDOT can separate from the City into a merged regional system.