The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, the long-term planning group for the region’s roads and highways, has taken the eyebrow-raising action of making its leader a man who no longer holds public office.
Former Hays County Commissioner Will Conley was reappointed Monday evening as the board’s chair despite federal law stating that all members of such a board must be local elected officials, state officials or employees of a local 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 nonvoting 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 board, which primarily features elected officials from a six-county area, plays a central role in various regional transportation issues, from providing some financing for the North MoPac toll lanes to recommending which major road projects should happen over the next 25 years. Last year, the board pulled the plug on the proposed Lone Star Rail commuter line planned from San Antonio to Georgetown.
The spat over Conley’s reappointment stems from his decision to run for Hays County judge. The office is considered a higher office than the seat he had held 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 submitted an opinion piece 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 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,” 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.”