TriMet's Board of Directors features (at most) seven people, each representing one district in the TriMet service area. Each board member is highly qualified in the business sense, and some of them (i.e. Dr. Bethel in N. Portland) truly understand the community s/he works in.
However, the problem is that each board member is appointed by the governor. This can work, but hasn't so far, mainly because the people appointed currently, respectable as they may be, are not able to identify with the riders in their districts.
The idea of the republican form of government (used in generic terms, not political parties) is that people are chosen from their represented bodies to bring their issues before those in charge of making decisions. While this is a board of directors and not a senate, the fact that they supposedly "represent" their constituents makes it seem more reasonable that they should be chosen from among their constituents by their constituents. Also, although it is operated more like a corporation (which is advantageous in many ways, the stuff of future blog entries), TriMet is a government agency, which means it should represent its people and have accountability from said people. The current structure does not allow for that.
|TriMet Board of Directors District Map, http://trimet.org/about/board.htm|
Here is an example. Tiffany Sweitzer is the board member for District 2, which covers NW Portland and an area of SW Portland north of Mountain Park and east of SW 63rd Ave. (See map here) She is obviously a sharp businesswoman, as she is the president of Hoyt Street Properties, a firm that develops property mainly in the Pearl District. However, she is not a TriMet rider, nor is she as informed about the system as she should be for a board member (she didn't know that the Portland Streetcar was not owned by TriMet until recently). It would be too easy for someone like her to represent the best interests of her company over the best interests of the riders the agency actually serves.
Now, I don't mean to pick on Tiffany. She is not alone, as there is only one board member who actually uses TriMet enough to write home about. But the problem's not just that they aren't necessarily looking into the best interest of the riders. They rarely speak up in meetings.
This is where the term "sock puppets" came from. I don't advocate calling people names, but the purpose of a sock puppet sometimes feels eerily similar to what the board does. Neil presents something, they vote it in. Neil presents something else, they vote it in. Maybe they express some concern. But they still vote it in. I'm sure they really believe it's the right choice of action, but that's because they are picked from the same vine as Neil. That's a good thing to some extent, and there should be people on the board thinking along the lines Neil thinks. But the main point of the board is accountability, as they are the only entity beside the governor who is over the general manager. And without people who think differently than Neil, there is no accountability.
So this is why HB 3316 is important. It seeks to put the power of the board back in the hands of the people, where it belongs. Because this is a public agency. The only way TriMet will truly serve the best interests of the metro area is if something like this is passed.
And seriously, if I have to vote for Soil and Water people on my voting ballot, why can't I vote for the TriMet board, something I actually care about?