It’s getting to be that time again, for those few who pay attention to the workings of our county transit authority. Please bear with the acronym soup here, it’s relevant to the story.
Once every four years, our transit authority board is required to evaluate its composition and decide whether there is a reason to change that composition. This required evaluation is not dependent on any change in service area or population. It is a conference to evaluate appropriateness of board composition to represent the citizens of the service area. Further, the law states that any elected person can serve on a transit authority board if invited by the county legislative authority. We are legally allowed nine members on our board. We have five.
RCW 36.57A.030 refers to a PTIC, a Public Transportation Improvement Conference, which is what a county legislative authority undertakes to start a transit system. The county commission selects one commission member and one member from each incorporated jurisdiction to decide whether to start a public transit system. If the answer is yes, members for the first board are the county commission and individuals selected from the legislative authority for any incorporated areas. In our case, this was done in May of 1980. All three commissioners and three city council members were our first board.
Every four years after a PTIC, selected members of the authority board are required to hold a PRC, a Periodic Review of Composition, to determine whether the board adequately represents its service area. Our six member board was changed to five members at a PRC fairly early on in its existence, with one city councillor dropped. RCW 36.57A.055 says that a PRC shall consist of the members of the county legislative authority and one representative of each incorporated area. In our case, three commissioners, one city councillor.
The first PRC I attended was nearly eight years ago. All five members of our authority board participated, and all decided they were doing a fine job and why should it change? But coincidentally, it was also a joint meeting with Mason County Transit Authority to sign an interlocal. At that time, MTA consisted of three school board members, one Shelton councillor, one each from the fire district and hospital district, and three Mason County commissioners. Our own board was quite startled to find out school, fire and hospital district board members could serve.
The second PRC I attended was nearly four years ago. Our transit board chair decided the PRC would consist of one commissioner and one council member. In the case of a tie vote, there would be no change to board composition. Tie vote occurred. However, the PRC composition was incorrect. It was, in fact, incorrect both eight years and four years ago. I know this because I asked for a written opinion from the person who was the Deputy Director of Public Transportation at WSDOT at the time, and she confirmed - a PRC is held by all county commissioners, plus one councillor from each incorporated area.
Sometime before the end of December 2018, our board will undertake this process again. The misinformation is already starting to build. At the most recent transit meeting, the board’s attorney came to ‘explain’ the RCWs to the board. The attorney conflated all the RCWs related to the process of founding and reviewing such bodies and decided that the one:one makeup of the PTIC must also be what is used for the PRC. But they are different RCWs, different processes, different purposes. The attorney also ominously opined on the risks of adding non-legislative electeds and suggested that the state legislature didn’t really mean ‘any elected official’ could serve when they said ‘any elected official’ could serve. Mason County’s board was brought up and discounted as some odd and risky outlier, the only one in the state to have non-legislative electeds on their board. It was suggested that Mason County was putting itself at risk.
A few questions arise.
Why would our state legislature require a periodic review of composition if an authority board has no options for change of composition? What would be the point? And why would the legislature say ‘any elected official’ can serve if it isn’t true? They serve, of course, at the pleasure of the county legislative authority, but they can serve.
Mason County is not an outlier as far as Jefferson County is concerned. It seems, in fact, to be the only other county in our state that has a single incorporated area. Just like us. Mason added members ‘in the interest of equal representation, fairness and balance’. Their expanded board composition has effectively operated for at least eight years with additions and subtractions of fire commissioners and hospital commissioners on their board, along with a healthy representation from all their school districts. Additionally, we are among a minority of PTBAs (Public Transit Benefit Areas) that have all three county commissioners on their transit boards. Many have just one, or two, but they have more than one incorporated area - city - to select councillors from to construct a representative board.
A PRC is intended to evaluate whether a board is serving its population. Who on our board can speak knowledgeably for the needs of school children in all our county’s school districts? Who speaks knowledgeably for the hospital district? The port district? Why do we want to keep all those voices silenced with regard to our public transportation? The current members of our board are all very busy already, being commissioners and councillors. Why not spread the workload and include some voices representing other aspects of our county, who might have a little more time to engage on important issues and constituencies now overlooked?