The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, the long-term planning group for the region’s roads and highways, took the eyebrow-raising action on Monday of making its leader a man who no longer holds public office.
Former Hays County Commissioner Will Conley was reappointed as the board’s chair despite bylaws stating that all members must be a local elected official, a state official or an employee of a related transportation agency.
Conley, who resigned his Hays County office in October 2017, is currently none of those. However, CAMPO’s legal counsel told the board it would be kosher for him to remain as the head of the board as long as he assumes a non-voting role.
The vote was 15-1-2 with Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea against and Austin City Council Member Alison Alter abstaining on behalf of herself and as a proxy for Council Member Ann Kitchen.
The spat over Conley’s re-appointment stems from his decision to run for Hays County Judge. The office is considered a higher office than the seat on the Hays County Commissioners Court, which meant state law required Conley to resign.
But a nomination committee headed by Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, which includes Austin Mayor Steve Adler, recommended Conley be nominated again as chair of CAMPO despite — at the least for the time being — not meeting any of the requirements to sit on the board.
Shea, the sole no vote, submitted an op-ed to the American-Statesman that called for Conley to step down and said the board’s leadership needed to rotate more often. Conley has been the chair of the board for four years and was appointed to a new two-year term on Monday.
Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said before the meeting that he supported Conley’s continuing leadership because of his expertise in regional transportation. That knowledge would be critical as CAMPO attempts to adjust to a shift in political winds from the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick away from toll roads, Daugherty said.
Those comments were echoed at Monday’s meeting from elected officials representing urban Austin and its outlying suburbs.
“The times that we are in right now indicate that he would be the most effective chair moving forward,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “Frankly, there are rooms he can get into that we might not be able to get into.”
But Kelly Davis, staff attorney at Save Our Springs Alliance, suggested it was time for Conley to experience CAMPO from the opposite side of the dais.
“He is a member of the public and a private citizen,” Davis said. “He can discuss his opinions on transportation on this side of the podium and try to limit his comments to three minutes.”