The Austin Chronicle

Resizing the CAMPO Tent

By Lee Nichols, December 11, 2009, News

When Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson announced last week that he would step down as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – the body of elected officials that guides transportation planning in Central Texas – it came as quite a shock, given how heavily involved he's been in transportation issues throughout his political career. Watson served on the CAMPO board during his entire tenure as mayor of Austin (1997-2001) and, as state senator, has served as chair since 2007.

His move immediately set off speculation that it presaged leaving his senate seat to run for higher office, likely lieutenant governor, but he quickly snuffed out those rumors by filing to run for his District 14 seat again. Instead, Watson said he's stepping down for idealistic reasons. As Bastrop and Caldwell counties prepare to join Williamson, Travis, and Hays in CAMPO, the already large board must either expand or stay a similar size while still properly balancing the representation of member counties and cities. Watson prefers the latter. One staff proposal (see charts) would remove state legislators and small-city representatives from the board. "I get that it's unique for a chair to give up his position," Watson told the Chronicle, "but I feel strongly about this principle."

Although transportation is certainly a major issue for legislators, Watson said, "the Lege is not involved in day-to-day planning. Also, a large part of funding for transportation projects comes from counties and cities. Mayors, county judges, and commissioners do the largest part of allocating that dough. They're the ones building roads and [crafting bond packages]. And they have the technical staff. I've always believed [legislators] all should go. The feds always emphasized local officials when they created [metropolitan planning organizations]."

His resignation doesn't mean he'll drop off the transportation beat. "The Legislature has a significant role to play, as a conduit to make [the Texas Department of Transportation] do what it ought to do. Just because I'm not chair doesn't mean I won't be vocally up in [TxDOT's] business. ... My involvement will not be because I'm the chair but because it's my job as state senator."

The CAMPO Policy Board Composition Committee will take up the issue of realigning the board to accommodate Caldwell and Bastrop counties at 3pm Monday, Dec. 14, in the boards and commissions room at Austin City Hall (Rm. 1101).

Rearranging Deck Chairs

The CAMPO Policy Board Composition Committee will consider at least four staff recommendations for reconfiguring CAMPO's board to accommodate the inclusion of Caldwell and Bastrop counties and then send a recommendation to CAMPO's current board. Three of the four would increase the number of officials serving (from 20), while the fourth would reduce it to 16. Sen. Kirk Watson and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell (the committee chair) lean toward the latter. A comparison between the current board and that proposal:

Current Board

Type of representationCountyCities pop 50K+Core citysmall cityState repsState senatorOtherTotal
Capital Metro 11
Bastrop 0
Caldwell 0
Hays11 1 3
Travis3 4111 10
Williamson12 11 5

Proposal Removing State Legislators

Type of representationCountyCities pop 50K+Core citysmall cityState repsState senatorOtherTotal
Capital Metro 11
Bastrop1 1
Caldwell1 1
Hays11 2
Travis3 4 7
Williamson12 3
Totals734 216

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