Monday, January 22, 2007

“Kirk Watson has set himself up as the chair of CAMPO and he’ll be coronated tomorrow night."

Toll foe attacks Watson on reorganization of board

Watson says he hopes for more open, democratic processes

January 22, 2007

By Kimberly Reeves
Copyright 2007

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) is getting a big dose of what a number of elected officials who deal with toll roads already know quite well: SalCostello.

At yesterday’s Indy Texan event, the organizer of the Austin Toll Party and Texas Toll Party was on the offense, handing out flyers on Watson’s alleged efforts to “hijack CAMPO.” In the flyer, Costello insists Watson has been working behind the scenes for months “to set himself up as CAMPO Chair so he can help toll roads we’ve already paid for.”

The flyer goes on to say that Watson will severely reduce accountability and squelch public feedback on stacking the deck, presumably the CAMPO board, with pro-toll members, including the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and three members of the Alliance of Cities. The Alliance of Cities, Costello writes, is administered by former Williamson County road lobbyistPeggy Croslin, who has interests with her husband in Croslin and Associates, which has interest in PBS&J.

Costello told the Indy Texans group at the Crowne Plaza yesterday that the toll road issue was really about corruption and accountability, about elected officials ignoring the public and taking what belongs to the people, whether it’s campaign funds or getting a contract for your sister with the toll authority, an allusion to Rep. Dawnna Dukes’(D-Austin) sister landing a contract with the CTRMA.

“Kirk Watson has set himself up as the chair of CAMPO and he’ll be coronated tomorrow night,” Costello told the group. “He has a number of proposals to alter CAMPO, even though he’s never sat on the board.”

When asked about Costello’s allegations, Watson said he would be just as happy not to be chair of CAMPO. The plans and proposals to alter the make-up of the CAMPO board were intended to provide more balanced representation for the region and stop the heavy reliance on state elected officials on the board, a point which Costello himself has criticized.

The board has lost eight members over the last year, most recently its long-time chair Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin). About the same time, Watson agreed to chair a Chamber of Commerce subcommittee that intended to review a report on CAMPO completed in 2001 -- under the late Neal Kocurek and then shelved without any further action.

“The thought process was that there would be a big change, and this would be a good time to look at how CAMPO operated and see if there were ways to operate better,” said Watson. “The thought was, at a time of natural significant change, should we revisit the peer review?”

Watson says it’s a bit ironic Costello would question reapportioning the board since he was the one to file a lawsuit that challenged how elected officials could both pass toll roads and then implement them. Under the chamber proposal, the number of state elected officials would be reduced from 10 to 3. Even so, those changes would have to be agreed to by the five signatories of CAMPO: Austin, Capital Metro and Travis, Hays and Williamson counties.

Proposals by the chamber would provide more, not fewer, avenues for public feedback: taking hearings out to various areas of the region; appointing an ombudsman to handle public feedback; and upgrade the work of the technical advisory committee.

Watson has recommended pulling down the Phase II toll road projects, specifically because he did not think the feedback and evaluation process went well. If he is elected chair of CAMPO, Watson wants to appoint a mobility financing task force to look at options for funding the toll roads and to share that information with the public.

“We’re trying to make the system work better,” Watson said. “I don’t know why (Costello’s) decided to attack me. I’m not on the CAMPO board yet, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it more accountable to the citizens of Travis County, make it work better. If it doesn’t, we can change it and enhance public input and enhance the way we work as an organization.”

Watson did serve on CAMPO when he was Mayor and has experience with how the organization works--or fails to work--as the case may be.

Tonight’s CAMPO meeting, postponed from last week, will begin at 6pm at the JJ Pickle Campus in North Austin.

© 2007 In Fact News Inc: