Thursday, September 15, 2005

Central Texas RMA concerned about Public Relations and tolling

State law prompts board member to resign

9/14/2005

Roy Maynard
Tyler Morning Telegraph
Copyright 2005

North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority board member Jay Stokes resigned on Wednesday, because of state statutes that prevent officials from cities that might benefit from RMA projects from serving on RMA boards.

Stokes is the Gladewater city manager.

"Since our last meeting, it has come to light there are potential conflicts with my serving on the board, so it's best I resign," Stokes said on Wednesday. "I very much believe in the mission of the RMA, and I appreciate being appointed. But it's best I step down."

The Gregg County Commissioners Court appointed Stokes to the board of the five-month-old agency.

"I am disappointed Jay couldn't continue on the board, but I understand," Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said. "The court and I will be moving quickly to fill this vacancy."

Though he left the board, Stokes was appointed on Wednesday as chairman of the RMA's East Texas Hourglass Subcommittee.

"We still need your expertise," RMA Chairman Jeff Austin III told him.

Stokes' letter of resignation was dated Aug. 24 and effective Wednesday.

In other business, Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, made a presentation on the early stages of his agency and "the challenges of infancy."

The biggest challenge is educating the public, he said. Tolls are only slightly more popular than taxes, he said, but in reality, tolls represent choice. Drivers who pay for roads through taxes on gasoline now pay for projects they'll never use, he noted. But a toll road is funded by its users.

As the NET RMA moves forward with its intention to develop portions of Loop 49 as toll roads, he said, its board would encounter opposition.

"The media can be your best friend or your worst enemy," Heiligenstein said.

In addition to media outreach, his agency held more than 50 public meetings. "Public outreach is critical," he said.

Also on Wednesday, engineering consultants from PBS&J, a Tyler firm, spoke about typical RMA project procedures.

The Texas Department of Transportation debuted a new video it has produced with the Texas Transportation Institute to help educate the public on the RMA and the practical need for a toll approach to development, in light of fierce competition for state and federal transportation dollars.

"A creative source of funding is needed" if communities hope to get their projects built anytime soon, TxDOT explains in the brief video.

The video can be another tool to help educate the public, TxDOT said.

In other business, the RMA board:

Approved conflict of interest and procurement policies.

Retained legal counsel on an interim basis (up to six months), subject to budgetary resources.
Approved a strategic plan.
Scheduled a workshop session for 3 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Smith County Courthouse Annex.
Roy Maynard covers county government and politics. He can be reached at 903.596.6291. e-mail: news@tylerpaper.com


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