Making regional transit boards elected positions
On February 13th, a bipartisan transportation bill, HB 1877, was introduced by Representatives Hargrove, Freeman, Hurst, Blake, Kristiansen, Rodne and O’Ban. HB 1877 would make regional transit boards, such as the Sound Transit Board, elected positions. Back in October the Washington Policy Center published the results of a State Audit on the current Sound Transit Board and the supposed ‘watchdog’ group, the Citizens Oversight Panel (COP). According to the State Auditor’s Office, there is rampant conflict of interest among members of the COP, as well as a distinct lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the Sound Transit board members.
The WPC has long advocated for a solution to these problems. In the WPC Policy Guide we recommend that:
The Washington state legislature should make Sound Transit’s governing board of directors a directly elected body. Currently, Sound Transit’s board includes 18 local elected officials who are appointed by various other elected officials. This insulates the board from any direct accountability to the public for decisions regarding Sound Transit operations. State legislators should change the governing structure of Sound Transit to allow voters to directly select who sits on the board. (WPC Policy Guide 4th ed. p. 320.)
HB 1877 does exactly this, stating:
A regional transit authority must be governed by a board consisting of five board members, each representing an approximately equal population.
The bill goes on to say,
Within one hundred and twenty days of the effective date of this section, the regional transit authority must:
- Divide and number the regional transit authority into five board member districts numbered one through five.
- Schedule an election of the board at the next municipal election if one is to be held more than ninety days but not more than one hundred and eighty days, or otherwise at a special election to be held for that purpose in accordance with the law, which must be preceded by a primary election pursuant to the law.
HB 1877 further outlines that only one board member may be elected from each district and must reside in the district they are being elected to represent. The board member may only be elected by the registered voters of a given district. The bill also outlines term limits and minimum meeting requirements.
Considering the billions in transportation dollars that appointed Sound Transit Board is spending, and their record of failure in delivering the level of passenger service they promised to the public, creating an elected board would create greater public accountability and possibly get the agency back on track.
This post was written by Anne Davis, a research assistant with Washington Policy Center as part of WPC’s Doug and Janet True Internship Program.