Regional Transit Authority Board: 17 Apply

Interviews to be held on Dec. 27 for two Washtenaw County representatives on the southeast Michigan RTA board

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 Regional Transit Authority board will have two appointees from each of four counties, and one from the city of Detroit.

The Regional Transit Authority board will have two appointees from each of four counties, and one from the city of Detroit.

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.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government and civic affairs. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already on board The Chronicle bus, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By M. Hunt
    December 22, 2012 at 11:33 pm | permalink

    Is there a place where the applications and cover letters can be read?

  2. By Mark Koroi
    December 23, 2012 at 1:23 am | permalink

    Marian Faupel received national notoriety as the attorney who represented the natural parents in the Baby Jessica adoption case.

    Her victory over the DeBoers in the Michigan Supreme Court reversed a trial court defeat her clients had sustained and elevated her to a pre-eminent status in the specialty of adoption law.

  3. December 23, 2012 at 7:20 am | permalink

    I just reread SB 909 to verify that David Nacht would apparently not be disqualified from serving simultaneously on the AATA Board and this new RTA board. He cannot be either an elected official or an employee of a transit organization, but evidently serving as an appointed member of both boards is not excluded.

    Just as a general note, board members are to serve without compensation, but with “reimbursement for necessary travel and expenses consistent with relevant statutes”.

  4. December 23, 2012 at 11:09 am | permalink

    Re: [1]: [link]

  5. By David Cahill
    December 24, 2012 at 11:02 am | permalink

    “Cahill Predicts”: Conan Smith will appoint Richard Murphy to one of these slots. Interviews, hearings, etc., are irrelevant.

    The RTA is set up to suck money out of the AATA. Insiders say that when the dust settles, the worst-case scenario is that the AATA could lose 10% of its annual budget.

    Will Smith appoint David Nacht in an attempt to minimize the damage to the AATA? Stay tuned.

  6. December 24, 2012 at 11:40 am | permalink

    I was fascinated to read Elizabeth Gerber’s CV and publication list. She is a distinguished professor of public policy and has been studying regional transit. As indicated above, she is guiding a simulation.

    We often hear cries for the UM to contribute its intellectual resources to the community. Here is someone willing to do that. Wouldn’t that be a great outcome of having Washtenaw County dragged into the RTA?

    I hope that Conan Smith belies all cynical predictions (including mine) and goes beyond politics to appoint a non-political public policy expert who is not invested in a particular outcome.

  7. By Margaret Leary
    December 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    Seems to me the most important issue here is whether or not Washtenaw County participates. Isn’t regional planning, especially for transportation–which drives development, provides access to employment, etc.–crucial in SE MI? Or do Ann Arborites agree with L. Brooks Patterson’s love of sprawl–which he loves because it enables whites to escape blacks?

    “Not coincidentally, there’s also a distinct absence of any sort of regional public transportation [in the Detroit area]. And so in the adopted city of Rosa Parks, the bus system remains essentially segregated, as the surrounding suburbs maintain their own regional bus line, wholly separate from that of the city, where the riders are almost entirely African-American. Certain suburban bus lines will take riders from the suburbs downtown, but they go express as soon as they cross into the city proper and will not pick up any new passengers.” (Binelli, Detroit City is the Place to be, 2012, p. 26)

    Don’t we want to be part of the solution to the problems of people who can’t afford both a decent place to live and a car? Just asking!

  8. By Jack Eaton
    December 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm | permalink

    Re: (7), Ms Leary says “the most important issue here is whether or not Washtenaw County participates.”

    Actually, the most important issue regarding southeast Michigan transit is adequate funding of the urban bus services. The new Regional Transit Authority (RTA) does not address that longstanding problem. Instead, the RTA establishes a new layer of bureaucracy over the existing, underfunded, agencies. The new RTA will raise new funding for commuter services but not for existing transit services. Thus, once again we see the relatively wealthy commuters from areas of urban sprawl receive funding for commuter service while relatively less wealthy urban transit users watch their bus systems suffer lack of funding.

    Ann Arbor is not really part of the Detroit suburbs, in spite of what Conan Smith would like to believe. We are a destination, not an outlying burb. Having our relatively well run transit system (AATA) lumped in with the massively larger Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and SMART systems will lead to our becoming a secondary consideration in the regional planning of transit services. We provide 2.06 mill tax funding for AATA while neither the DDOT nor SMART have such high tax rates supporting them. It is not a question of whether we will be part of the solution or the problem so much as a question of whether we will become an irrelevant part of the much bigger problem of Detroit transit funding.

  9. December 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm | permalink

    Re (7): Discussion of mass transit in our area over the past few years has been plagued with statements pronouncing overarching principles which cannot be disputed but have little application to the very specific questions at hand. Yes, unquestionably, transit is a good that we should support, especially transit that serves “underserved” populations where poverty is an issue. Yes, certainly those of us living in SE Michigan would like to see our major metropolitan area with an effective and just transit system. But inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA does not make sense.

    We have been struggling to figure out how to fund regional transit in our own local region (just Washtenaw County and slightly beyond) for years now. This (RTA) is likely to make it harder for us to serve our own urban area as it is needed. Ypsilanti City’s median income was $34,685 in the last census and Ypsilanti Township’s was $47,820. (Ann Arbor is just above them, 3rd from the bottom in the county.) AATA has been trying to extend bus service to these areas. But this move will actually make it more difficult for AATA to function. It will likely result in a loss of overall funding and in the ability to plan independently.

    It might be added that many, though not all, of these residents of our shared urban area are black. We have plenty of “people who can’t afford both a decent place to live and a car”. I believe that overall we have a communal will to resolve the problem of how to provide transit within our own county’s urban area. This will not be helped by a shift of local resources to Detroit. I for one resent the suggestion that Ann Arbor’s concern with the RTA is because we support white flight (a non-subtle implication that we are racist to resist this co-opting of our transit system to serve metro Detroit).

    I agree with the point made in (8) that the main beneficiaries of the new programs in the RTA are (relatively affluent) commuters from the suburbs into metro Detroit. The RTA does not provide new funding for the Detroit area bus systems, just a new layer of “coordination”.

  10. By Mark Koroi
    December 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm | permalink

    The AATA board should disclose to the public – or maybe someone should try to discover – the amount of attorney fees and costs that authority is spending to fight the ACLU in the “Boycott Israel” lawsuit.

    David Askins initially was able to gather that the amount paid to the Maddin Hauser law firm for the first month of legal representation last year was over $6,900.00. This is not mentioning that Jerry Lax’s law firm is also assisting on the AATA defense of this case and a University of Michigan professor was retained at the cost of $250.00 per hour to render an expert opinion that was used in an affidavit in the AATA’s ill-fated attempts to get the action dismissed.

    I fail to see how defending this lawsuit squares with the mission of the AATA. The AATA has a $50,000.00 fee and cost deductible with its liability insurance carrier that it will have to exhaust before the carrier takes over payment of Maddin Wartell’s fees and expenses.

    David Nacht is one of the applicants for the position on the Regional Transit Authority. My opinion is that the decisions made vis a vis the advertising guidelnes ACLU intervention and eventual federal court lawsuit amount to public policy failures of the AATA board. If David Nacht voted for and acquiesced in these policies, then maybe he should be denied any seat on the RTA.