Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"The fact you would sit there and be so arrogant that you would not even commit to a meeting date ... is very troubling."

Rebuff angers Dallas senator

Highway chairman finally agrees to meet on toll roads, other issues


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – The chairman of the state Transportation Commission on Tuesday angered a key senator from Dallas – and possibly the entire Senate – when he initially ignored a request by the senator for a meeting to discuss the growing number of toll roads in Texas and other volatile highway issues.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona paid an unusual visit to a meeting of the House Transportation Committee, where highway commission Chairman Ric Williamson was testifying about road projects around the state.

Sitting with the House panel, Mr. Carona was asked if he had any questions for Mr. Williamson, and the Dallas Republican said he only wanted to know when he could personally confer with the commission chairman after trying unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting for the past week and a half.

"I just wanted to ask you, Chairman Williamson, if you and I might meet this week on important transportation issues," Mr. Carona said, noting that Mr. Williamson's office had said his calendar "was booked through March."

Mr. Williamson sounded receptive at first, telling the senator he looked forward to a meeting.

But when Mr. Carona pressed him on a date, Mr. Williamson responded, "I will call you. I will call you."

That triggered a sharp retort from the senator, who has been critical of major policy decisions by the Transportation Commission over the past several months.

"It is this kind of lack of commitment and artful dodging from something as basic as an appointment that causes the hostility and friction that exist right now," he told Mr. Williamson.

"It is tragic that we have come to this day in Texas politics ... that any disagreement with your views or the views of the commission would result in your unwillingness to even meet with the chairman.

"The fact you would sit there and be so arrogant that you would not even commit to a meeting date ... is very troubling."

Asked again about a possible meeting, Mr. Williamson said: "Frankly, senator, I am speechless at this point."

Mr. Carona then left the House meeting, but vowed later that his Senate committee would delve into "serious issues that need to be addressed regarding tolls" and other such politically charged matters as the Trans-Texas Corridor project.

Mr. Williamson later agreed to meet with the senator today after Mr. Carona complained to aides for Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Mr. Williamson to the Transportation Commission.

"No one is trying to abolish or create a wholesale upheaval of those programs, but at the same time the public has voiced very loudly their concerns" about the Transportation Commission's policies, Mr. Carona explained, adding that some of those areas will require legislative action this year.

Mr. Williamson's term on the Transportation Commission expired Feb. 1, but he will keep serving until Mr. Perry either reappoints him or names a replacement.

The Senate would have to confirm whoever is appointed.

Several senators said they believe that Mr. Perry may hold off on reappointing Mr. Williamson until after the legislative session ends in late May, avoiding confirmation hearings before critical senators.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE