County Board OKs Transit Accord – Again

In a vote viewed largely as a formality at their Sept. 5, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners “ratified” the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The document was slightly revised from what the board had previously approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote. This time, the vote was 6-3, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Ronnie Peterson were absent. Rob Turner, who had previously voted against the articles of incorporation, supported the item.

The ratification of the articles of incorporation did not incorporate a new transit authority. Rather, it established the document that will be used to incorporate a new authority – by Washtenaw County, when the AATA requests that it do so. After incorporation, the new authority – to be called The Washtenaw Ride – would not receive transfer of AATA assets until a voter-approved funding mechanism has been approved.

The re-approval of the articles of incorporation by the board on Sept. 5 was prompted indirectly by the board’s action on Aug. 1, when it voted to amend the the document that had already been approved by three other parties in a four-party transit agreement. Those other parties include the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Because  of the amendment, the articles of incorporation had to be re-authorized by the other three parties.

The county board’s Aug. 1 amendment made a change to the size of the majority needed, in order for the new transit authority’s board to change the articles of incorporation – from 2/3 to 4/5 of the 15 board members. When the amended document was sent back to the Ann Arbor city council, the city’s legal staff made additional changes that were driven by a desire to harmonize the county board’s amendment with the rest of the document, as well as with Act 196 of 1986 – the act under which the new transit authority will be incorporated. For example, the 4/5 majority requirement for changes to the articles of incorporation is at apparent odds with one kind of change to the articles specifically mentioned in Act 196 – a change in jurisdictions that are part of the authority. Act 196 explicitly indicates that a 2/3 vote is required. So an administrative change undertaken after the board’s Aug. 1 meeting was to add the clause: “… unless another vote of Board is required under the terms of these Articles or provided for in Act 196.”

Although it wasn’t clear whether the changes required a re-vote by the county board of commissioners, some commissioners were concerned that the changes might be construed as substantive and contrary to the intent of the county board, which could become an unnecessary point of contention down the road. For more details on this series of changes, see Chronicle coverage: “Washtenaw Board to Re-Vote on Transit Accord.”

Earlier in the day on Sept. 5, the AATA board released a final draft of a 5-year service plan as part of a possible transition to a new transit authority, to be called The Washtenaw Ride. An 0.584 mill tax to support expanded service could be placed on the ballot by May 2013. [See Chronicle coverage: "Revised 5-Year Transit Plan: More Service, Cost."]

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]