Photo by ATXN. Cap Metro CEO/Executive Director ATP Randy Clarke
Thursday February 10th, 2022 by Jo Clifton
At least 165 community members participated Tuesday night in the first of two virtual meetings designed to gather feedback on the future of Austin’s Connect project, which is currently in the design phase. In addition to specific questions about where the various lines will be built, groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition and People United for Mobility Action have raised questions about the governance of the Austin Transit Partnership, the agency formed by the city and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. to design and build the $7.1 billion transit system.
Voters approved a property tax increase of 8.75 cents in 2020, including $300 million for anti-displacement efforts to preserve and build affordable housing along the project’s transit corridors. While the ATP will have questions to answer about the use of this funding in the future, the big question now concerns the governance and leadership of ATP and Capital Metro. Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke is also executive director of the Austin Transit Partnership, earning him two full-time jobs. A change to this structure would require action by the ATP Board of Directors.
João Paulo Connolly of Austin Justice Coalition, who is a member of the ATP Community Advisory Board, said that what may be in the best interest of Capital Metro’s operations may not be in the best interest of the ATP, and vice versa. He said having one person in charge of both agencies could easily lead to a conflict of interest.
In December, ATP authorized Eno Center for Transportation to study and report on the governance and leadership of Project Connect. The consultants released a preliminary report and promised that a final report would be delivered to the ATP board in March.
An email message from PUMA inviting recipients to attend Tuesday’s meeting said: “Currently the governance of ATP and CapMetro is structured to have the same Executive Director heading each organization. The ATP and its leadership and governance structure will impact Austin for generations to come. In order to deliver on promises made to Austin voters, he must avoid conflicts of interest and establish a relationship of trust with the communities that depend on transit service. To this end, there must be clear, independent and well-defined relationships between the ATP, CapMetro and the City of Austin. It is crucial that we ensure that this promise to voters is kept.
A community advocate who did not wish to be identified said it might be best if Clarke continued to lead the two organizations. The person said: ‘An argument can be made when you’re trying to deliver a $7 billion project on time and on budget, you need to streamline and make sure there’s as much cooperation as possible so to get the most efficiency.”
Clarke pondered the question. In a Jan. 12 memo to the ATP and Capital Metro boards and the Austin City Council, he wrote, “Over the past few months, the topic of how the role of executive director of the ATP is filled has become an area of unfortunate and unintended misunderstanding between the partner agencies. At such a critical time for the program, it is important that potential areas of conflict are jointly resolved to reduce program risk, as our sole focus must be to best implement this transformational program for the benefit of the community that we all serve.
“I want to do everything I can as program manager to help the program’s two sponsors, CapMetro and the City of Austin, and the lead implementing agency, ATP, make decisions that will position the better the program for future success. To that end, if my personal role as leader of CapMetro and ATP is seen as an impediment to the success of the program, I believe a new ATP leadership structure should be established. In a potential new model, it would no longer be the responsibility of the CEO of CapMetro to lead the ATP as executive director. This would give the ATP board the opportunity to select a new executive director who will partner with the CEO of CapMetro and the city manager to run the program.
He added: “Additionally, this potential model would include a logical transition to a position as CEO of CapMetro as an ex-officio member of the ATP board alongside the city representative; a transition that can be achieved by the CapMetro Board of Directors and the City Council amending the ATP statutes.
So when Eno’s final report comes back, should he indicate whether to hire a new executive director for the ATP, Clarke has already signaled that he would be willing to step into the role ex officio. Deputy City Manager Gina Fiandaca currently holds this position.
Mayor Steve Adler, who chairs the ATP board, told the austin monitor he does not expect the Eno report to recommend any particular structure for the board, but to outline the advantages and disadvantages of alternative structures. Adler said he expects the board to make a leadership decision by the end of March.
Adler added that Clarke’s offer to step down as ATP executive director was “very kind”. It shows that he is driven and motivated by the success of Project Connect.
The ATP will hold a second virtual public input meeting on Saturday at 11 a.m. Register to speak by online registration.
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