Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"Some board members were concerned that Walsh may have favored TxDOT, her former employer, more than local interests."

Planning agency boss quits


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, an agency that helped kick-start the move toward toll roads in San Antonio, is losing its director.

Joanne Walsh, director of the MPO since May 1, 2002, submitted her resignation Friday, effective in two weeks.

"I have reached this decision after being courted by a prestigious consulting firm and doing a lot of personal goal setting," she said in a letter e-mailed to board members.

The organization's board, made up of elected officials and representatives of various agencies, last year approved about $500 million in public funds for more than 70 miles of toll roads in San Antonio. Either the Texas Department of Transportation or the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority will oversee them.

Walsh, a native of Devine, worked in legislative affairs for TxDOT's main office in Austin before coming to the planning organization. She was with the state department for 21 years.

Now she's headed to Parsons Brinckerhoff, a planning, engineering and management firm. She'll be the local office manager, reportedly for more than her current $82,870 a year.

Walsh was known for putting a lot of words behind the need for multiple modes of transportation, including passenger rail and sidewalks. She also spoke strongly for toll roads.

But she didn't always say what everybody wanted to hear. Once, in an open meeting, she rebuked her board for not getting along better. When her annual evaluation came up last spring, board members decided not to give her a raise.

"But there was no angst or anything," said Richard Perez, who joined the board late last year and became chairman in June. "I think she was doing a good job.

"I'm going to miss her," Perez, a city councilman, said Monday. "She is a very, very savvy woman who understands how things work."

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who was chairman before Perez and remains on the board, said some board members were concerned that Walsh may have favored TxDOT, her former employer, more than local interests.

"We had that talk with her, and she understood where we were coming from," he said. "I thought we were clear of that hurdle."

Walsh had to deal with 19 voting board members with stakes in no fewer than half a dozen organizations.

"Sometimes there are competing interests," she said. "They're not always in sync. My goal has always been to do what's best for this area, not what's best for one individual agency."

As the board searches for a new director, it could name planner Jeanne Geiger as acting director. She's the organization's No. 2 person.


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