Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Quasi-governmental groups spend vast amounts of public funds. Yet, they are not accountable to the citizens they serve. "

The Shadow Government


The Collin County Observer
Copyright 2008

RTC ... NTTA ... NCTCOG ... CCAD ... CJPDC ... MPO ... DART ... RRC ...

There is an alphabet soup of organizations that impacts almost every facet of your life. These quasi-governmental groups determine transportation policy, collect taxes, appraise your property, take you to work, dole out grant money and spend vast amounts of public funds.

Yet, they are not accountable to the citizens they serve. You've probably never even heard of many of them. You've never elected anyone to these boards and commissions, yet some of them are made up of elected officials. They operate in the shadows.

Take for example the RTC. The RTC is the Regional Transportation Council. It is made up up local city and county elected officials and it serves as one of the primary planning and funds disbursement. All $3.2 billion "up-front" money for the SH 121 toll road flowed through the RTC, who alone set the guidelines for divvying up these billions to the counties.

Last week, the RTC voted to approve a regional rail plan named "Rail North Texas" after a long 3 hour debate.

According to an article published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the RTC approved the plan and recommended it to the legislature for their approval. The Star Telegram article noted that the, "vote was split — 26 yeas, 13 nays and four no-shows."

Since the plan was controversial, and would result in the formation of another regional taxing district, I contacted the RTC and asked for the list of members who voted 'yes' or 'no'.

"The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."
Lara Kohl, NCTCOG

Collin County has 4 members on the RTC, Commissioner Joe Jaynes, Plano Councilwoman Loretta Ellerbe, NTTA Chairman Paul Wagemen (from Plano) and McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield. I wanted to know how they voted.

I was surprised at the response I got from Lara Kohl, the Public Involvement Manager for the transportation department at NCTCOG. Ms. Kohl wrote, "The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."

The Rail North Texas plan proposes to spend billions of dollars, raise taxes, and collect fees, but no one knows who voted for it!

In this writer's opinion, the lack of accountability here is appalling. Most of us remember the excesses that have plagued DART, starting decades ago with a fancy conference room and more recently with major budgeting difficulties. No one is accountable.

The whole concept of democracy is based on a government that is "of the people". Our government was created to be held to task by its citizens. Several times each year, we go to the polls to do exactly that.

But who in this "shadow government" is held to task? It's time we looked at the makeup of these organizations, and demanded accountability - including recorded votes on all actions.



CCAD Collin County Appraisal District. Board members elected by member cities, school boards and taxing agencies. Responsible for all property appraisals in the county.

CJPDC Criminal Justice Policy Development Committee. Responsible for reviewing and setting priorities for all criminal justice funding requests. Committee members are appointed by NCTCOG's Executive Board.

DART Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Operates trains, buses, HOV lanes. runs its own police department, collects taxes and fares. Board appointed by local member cities.

MPO Metropolitan Planning Organization. Made up of NCTCOG and RTC. Overall catch all for transportation planning and policy.

NCTCOG North Central Texas Council of Governments. Is the MPO for North Texas. Operates dozens of programs that control and funnel billions of dollars of state and federal grant money... for everything from air quality to roads. Board is appointed by local governments.

NTTA North Texas Tollway Authority. Builds and operates tollroads, tunnels and bridges. Collects tolls. Board is appointed by the 4 member counties, with one member appointed by the Governor of Texas.

RTC Regional Transportation Council. The MPO's transportation policymaking body, determines how regional transportation funds should be spent. The 40 members are appointed by local governments.

This is only a partial listing of the 'shadow government' organizations that may set policy, receive tax money, charge fares or tolls, spend public funds, and control billions in grant funds.

© 2008 Collin Conty Observer: www.baumbach.org

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