August 03, 2003
All around the town

The Chron has had a series of articles relating to Metro's mobility plan, which has been approved by its board for a referendum this November, though the sticky question of how to pay for it is still unresolved. That referendum will surely have an effect on the Mayor's race (and vice versa). Staking out their generally anti-Metro positions, candidates Orlando Sanchez and Michael Berry have called for decreasing Houston's proportional representation on Metro's board. Candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill White, who are much more closely aligned with Metro, disagree.

Under the system established with Metro's creation in 1979, Houston's mayor essentially controls the agency.

The mayor appoints five of Metro's nine board members, pending City Council confirmation. Commissioners Court and the mayors of the 14 smaller cities each appoint two members.

The Metro board then elects its chairman, a process generally mandated by Houston's mayor by virtue of the mayor's control over the board majority.

Sanchez on Wednesday proposed expanding the Metro board to 11 members, with the county getting another appointment and the city and county jointly appointing a chair who was not on the board.

The proposal is similar to the manner in which the Port of Houston Authority and Harris County-Houston Sports Authority share power between the city and county.

"As we move forward, we need more cooperation in regional transportation issues," Sanchez said. "This is a step in the right direction. If you have a unified support, you have an advantage."

A wing of the Greater Houston Partnership, which supports big business in the region, has expressed a nearly identical viewpoint.

Earlier this week, Walt Mischer, chairman of the partnership's Transportation & Infrastructure Advisory Committee, floated a rail compromise that called for a change in the Metro board make-up, possibly during a special session of the Legislature.

Berry believes the idea is a good one.

"Solving this regional problem is going to require a regional buy-in and a regional commitment," Berry said.

But Turner asked, "Why would a mayor want to weaken his position to the detriment of the people? (The) proposal is consistent with those people who believe there is not a necessity for city government."

As mayor, White said, he would primarily look to protect the city's interests because most of Metro's funding come from inside Houston.

"The mayor should stick up for the city, but be willing to cooperate with the county and the small cities and members of Congress," White said. "I personally have met with the small city mayors and members of Congress. That's a better approach than changing the governance of Metro."

I don't suppose it'll surprise anyone to learn that I think White and Turner are correct, and Berry and Sanchez are wrong. It does make for a clear choice, though. If you think Houston should be the dominant partner in Metro, vote for White or Turner. If you think the county and suburbs should have a bigger voice, vote for Berry or Sanchez.

Today, the Chron rides with commuters and gets their view of commuting, from Friendswood, Clear Lake, Sugar Land, the East End, North Houston, and Katy. I have to say, I used to think that I left for work at an ungodly hour (around 6 AM), but some of these people are on the road before 5 AM because of traffic. That's just nuts.

Buried way down in the main story today is the key to what this is all about:

Highway builders fear the loss of business if public infrastructure investment turns away from concrete and asphalt. Suburban interests, including subdivision developers, don't want to see a thriving inner city drawing people inside the Loop. Harris County and small-city leaders don't want their road money taken away.

I hate to sound all melodramatic, but this is to an extent about competition for a way of life. I'd rather see more power in the hands of people who live in the city and have the city's needs as their priority. I'm going to vote that way in November. I can't put it any more succinctly than that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack