Thursday, January 27, 2011

"TxDOT, on the hot seat of sunset review, wants lawmakers to believe it's reforming itself..."

TxDOT Director resigns, too little but not too late


Terri hall
Copyright 2011

Yesterday, with the announcement that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director Amadeo Saenz will retire at the end of August comes much relief from the grassroots who have insisted that change at the top of the beleaguered agency is necessary to move transportation forward. However, the speculation has already begun as legislators, local officials, and taxpayers contemplate who will be tapped to run the agency when his predecessor won't be named until AFTER lawmakers leave Austin for two years.

So even when we're handed a bone cloaked in "reform," we won't truly know if the new Executive Director will be any different than our last several "yes" men, who implemented the Governor's "toll everything" marching orders without question, even if it meant breaking the law. They're doing it this way, by design.

TxDOT, on the hot seat of sunset review, wants lawmakers to believe it's reforming itself, when the Grant Thornton Audit already found that TxDOT's reform efforts have done nothing to transform the way the agency operates. The last thing an out of control government agency, that now holds the key to levy unlimited new taxes on driving, wants is accountability and reform and an end to its ability to grow its budget, power and bureaucracy.

Corruption unveiled

We've seen unparalleled overreach by TxDOT: fraudulent environmental documents (that caused an unprecedented move to be prohibited from doing the environmental work for 281 & 1604), rigging votes at local MPOs to force them into toll scenarios, attempts to force local officials to sell a public toll system to private toll operators, perverting the law so it can convert EVERY SINGLE MAIN LANE of existing freeways like SH 281 in San Antonio and SH 290 in Austin into toll roads, and throwing anti-toll officials off of MPOs if they dared to vote against TxDOT's toll projects.

TxDOT repeatedly rigs it's "advisory committees" with Chamber of Commerce devotees, government bureaucrats, RMA and MPO officials who have vested interests in a toll regime then have the gall to call them "citizen-driven." We've even witnessed TxDOT employees filling out "public" comment cards in approval of TxDOT's plans at public hearings.

Leadership in crisis

Then, also under Amadeo Saenz leadership, TxDOT illegally hired registered lobbyists to directly lobby local elected officials, particularly county judges with the power to appoint arbiters over eminent domain disputes, to garner their support for the Trans Texas Corridor (which involved the biggest land grab in Texas history) and hired a PR firm to try to convince a skeptical public that it should want private, foreign companies tolling Texas roads (who pay TxDOT huge sums of money in exchange for the right to toll our citizens 75 cents PER MILE to drive our public roads).

Let's not forget the $1.1 billion accounting error and the Grant Thornton Audit that found TxDOT's financial reports COULD NOT BE VERIFIED, that inspectors who were required by law to be licensed weren't, and that management had a deep-seated belief that TxDOT was doing everything right and the public just needs to understand how right they are.

"I'm the most arrogant Commissioner..."

So while the Transportation Commissioners responsible for overseeing this bunch gush over Saenz' service to TxDOT, he and many other top managers and the Governor's five appointed commissioners ought to be shown the door... IMMEDIATELY!

Remember Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton actually bragged, "I'm the most arrogant commissioner of the most arrogant state agency in the state of Texas" and called opponents of foreign-owned toll roads, "bigots." The Commissioners themselves are just as much a part of the problem, if not the crux of it. With such gross abuse of the public trust and the heinous mismanagement of taxpayer resources, nothing short of a total house cleaning will do.

Business as usual

Sadly, most of our lawmakers see such abuses as "business as usual" in government and are rarely shocked by the corruption uncovered inside TxDOT. They tell us, particularly the members of the Sunset Commission (who are charged with fixing the waste, fraud, and abuse inside government agencies who are handpicked by the Speaker and Lt. Governor), that a single appointed commissioner is enough "reform," and insist no fundamental change is necessary. We MUST hold their feet to the fire if we're to clean-up TxDOT, or perhaps the house cleaning needs to spread to the next election.

© 2011

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