Friday, May 08, 2009

“No longer will the public be in the dark about construction projects in their own towns.”

Elected TxDOT overseers get nod


By Peggy Fikac
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — The state House, working into the night Thursday to overhaul the Texas Department of Transportation, voted to replace the five appointed members of its oversight board with 15 elected ones.

The proposal — which would elect the commission chairman statewide and the other 14 regionally — was part of a message of change from House members to an agency some view as unresponsive.

Among other proposed changes, the overhaul would tighten legislative oversight of the department; move motor vehicle registration and similar duties to a new, separate agency; push to make TxDOT and its plans more accessible; and give local communities more control over transportation dollars.

“No longer will TxDOT be a black box where projects are canceled without explanation, and money is moved without transparency,” said Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, sponsor of the revamp. “No longer will the public be in the dark about construction projects in their own towns.”

After House approval, the measure will go to the Senate for consideration.

Isett's original proposal would have kept five appointed commission members, who currently all are named by the governor. It would have made a change by giving the House speaker a voice on one of those appointments and allowed the lieutenant governor to name another.

But House lawmakers said bigger change was needed in leadership at TxDOT.

“We now have five people who run TxDOT, and we do not know where the buck stops,” said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio. “It's very difficult to get a problem solved.”

McClendon pushed for just one elected commissioner. After concerns were raised about geographic representation, Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, substituted the 15-member idea with her assent.

“The bottom line is we will all have a place at the table,” Leibowitz said.

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