Friday, November 30, 2007

"The latest in a series of odd comments and public relations nightmares prompted by toll road supporters."

MPO Head: "Those People" Can Afford Toll Roads

McNeil : Talking about 'those people.'

McNeil clarifies remarks, saying she didn't mean any racial divide

November 30, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
Copyright 2007

Bizarre comments by the chair of the Metropolitan Planning Authority are raising new questions about the Authority's judgment on the eve of Monday's critical vote on whether to build new toll lanes on US 281 outside Loop 1604, the first toll road project in Bexar County, 1200 WOAI news reports.

In a meeting of east side neighborhood associations Wednesday night, Sheila McNeil, who is also the city council member for District Two, repeatedly told listeners that 'those people,' in a reference to residents of north central San Antonio where the first toll lanes will be built, 'can afford' to pay the toll, because 'the average income out there is $300,000 a year.'

"Out on 281?" McNeil asked a questioner who grilled her on the toll road plan. "The average income out there is $300,000 a year. We tested the market."

According to City of San Antonio statistics, the average per capita income in north central San Antonio is just over $31,000 a year. The 'median family income' in the state of Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is $52,000 a year. The Census Bureau lists no community in the entire country where the 'average income' is $300,000 a year.

Repeatedly referring to north side residents as 'those people,' McNeil stressed that residents in her east side city council district will not be affected to the tolls, and hinted that she would use her position as head of the MPO to make sure they are not affected.

McNeil Friday afternoon said she did not mean anything racial by her use of the term 'those people.'

"My intent with the use of the word was simply referring to an area of town," she said today.

In her comments Wednesday night, McfNeil made it clear that she would step in and protect her east side constituents from having to pay tolls.

"We are having this conversation in this community," McNeil said. "The decision we're making Monday affects the north side community. It is not going to affect this community. Most of the people who are going to use this road live out in that area. That's who it impacts. Now when they start talking about coming out here on 35, then we can talk. But right now, the decisions we're making next week in 281, and the folks who live and drive out there, and 'those people' can afford a toll road, because the income out there is probably around $200,000 to $300,000 a year."

Terri Hall, who heads the anti toll group 'Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, called McNeil's comments 'outrageous.'

"I don't think its right to use class warfare and pit one part of town against another when it comes to the toll road fight," Hall said. "We are all in this together."

This is the latest in a series of odd comments and public relations nightmares prompted by toll road supporters. For years, toll road backers had vowed there were 'no plans' to toll existing highways. In September, 1200 WOAI news revealed a secret TxDOT memo which proposed that existing Interstate highways be purchased from the federal government so tolls could be collected on them. Then, in his State of the County address in October, County Judge Nelson Wolff, a backer of toll roads, called toll opponents 'dangerous' and claimed to have once called a Sheriff's Deputy to protect him from an anti toll activist who was threatening him. No police report of that alleged incident could be produced.

What outraged Hall the most was a comment McNeil made to east side citizens concerned about the cost of the toll.

"For people who don't have the five dollars, it's still a free road," McNeil said, indicating that lower income people should stick to the access roads, which will have slower traffic and more frequent stops. Hall said that's the 21 century equivalent of telling people to 'sit in the back of the bus.'

McNeil's east side district has the city's largest proportion of African American residents.

"She is basically asking the black community to become second class citizens by her own vote," Hall said. "It is unbelievable to me."

Hall also blasted McNeil's comments which appeared to indicate her willingness to protect the east side from tolls.

"As long as it's not in my back yard, its okay," Hall said. "These are public highways that everybody uses. It's not like the freeway system stops at the District Two line. We all drive these roads, and we all pay for these roads. It's just an abomination, what's going on."

Mayor Phil Hardberger Friday blasted Hardberger's comments as divisive.

"I think there were some misfortunate use of words there," Hardberger said. "Of course, the really correct word is 'our people.'

The MPO board, which McNeil heads, is scheduled to vote on Monday whether to construct new toll lanes on US 281. About half of the members of the MPO board are unelected staff members, including two who actually work for the Texas Department of Transportation. McNeil herself is serving her second term on San Antonio City Council and is prohibited by the city's term limits law from seeking another term.

© 2007 KQXTFM

Councilwoman: Hwy. 281 Commuters Can Afford Toll Roads

November 30, 2007
Copyright 2007

SAN ANTONIO -- A group opposed to toll roads recently posted a video clip on the Internet that shows District 2 City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil telling East Side constituents that building toll roads on the city's North Side is OK because residents in that part of the city can afford it.

According to Terri Hall, founder of San Antonio Toll Party and Texans United For Reform and Freedom, McNeil made the comments during a meeting Wednesday with members of the United Homeowners Improvement Association.

"Now, when they start talking about coming out here on 35, then we can talk," McNeil said. "But right now, the decisions we're making next week in 281, and the folks who live and drive out there, and those people can afford a toll road, because the income out there is probably around $200,000 to $300,000 a year."

McNeil is also chairwoman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is scheduled to vote on toll road fares Monday night for Highway 281.

According to Hall, McNeil also told her constituents to take the access roads if they can't afford toll roads.

Hall said that McNeil was skewing the annual income figures because according to hall, demographic information on the City of San Antonio's Web site shows that the per capita income for a District 9 resident is $31,000.

"It's horrible to pit one part of the community against the other," Hall said in a news release. "We need to be doing what's in the best interest of the entire community."

"It's a sad day when a black elected official in essence slaps the 'colored' sign on our freeways and stereotypes people based on income because of the side of town they live in," said Tommy Calvert Jr., president of Calvert International Consulting.

McNeil wasn't immediately available for comment.

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