Reckhow may lose transit-board seat

Jan. 07, 2013 @ 05:05 PM

County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow appears likely to lose her seat on the Triangle Transit board, to be replaced on it by fellow Commissioner Fred Foster.

The substitution appeared on the list of proposed committee assignments Foster, the commissioners’ chairman, distributed to them recently as they finish organizing for the 2012-16 term.
If it goes through, the change would come little more than a year into what was supposed to be another four-year term on the transit agency board for Reckhow. She has served on it since 2005 and was most recently reappointed in 2011.
Reckhow on Monday said she was “basically being removed” from the assignment, and asked colleagues to let her serve out the balance of her term.
An immediate decision wasn’t forthcoming, as County Attorney Lowell Siler said he had to research the law that governs the appointment.
But that shouldn’t take long, as the state’s enabling statute for Triangle Transit supplies the relevant details.
Commissioners have complete control over one seat on the 13-member, three-county board and share authority with the city government over another. An appointee serves four years, but can be removed “with or without cause” at any time by his or her patrons.
The joint city/county seat is held by Commissioner Michael Page. Mayor Bill Bell holds another seat controlled solely by the city.
“It’s not a matter of wanting the job, it’s a matter of what is fair for the board,” Foster said of the reasons behind the prospective switch. “Other people want to serve on there, not only Ellen, but some of the other commissioners.”
Foster said that in addition to himself, Commissioner Brenda Howerton has also voiced interest in serving on the Triangle Transit board.
“So I’m looking at how do I make it so other people can serve, so if I took it and later decided I wanted to step aside, they could do so with no problem,” he added.
The transit authority’s board oversees a regional bus system that’s also in charge of running the Durham Area Transit Authority. It’s about to get a $25 million-a-year influx of new money thanks to a half-percent sales-tax surcharge that will go into effect in Durham and Orange counties on April 1.
Proceeds from the surcharge are supposed to pay at first for new and expanded bus service, and eventually for construction of a new light-rail connection between Chapel Hill and Durham.
Reckhow said she wants to stay on in part because the board has to recruit a new general counsel for the agency. Counsel Wib Gulley, a former Durham mayor, is retiring this summer.
But with or without Reckhow’s seat in play, a change in the make-up of the board was likely this year.
That’s because the state’s secretary of transportation – as of this weekend former Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata – has authority under state law to appoint up to three non-voting delegates to the panel.
Tata has to draw them from the membership of the State Board of Transportation – a group whose roster is entirely at the discretion of the state’s new governor, Pat McCrory.
Tata’s predecessor, Gene Conti, of late had used only one of his appointments, giving it to Durham lawyer and Board of Transportation member Chuck Watts.
Local officials have asked McCrory to keep Watts on the state board, but the governor can replace Board of Transportation members as he or she sees fit.
To date, the new governor has shown little inclination to retain former Gov. Beverly Perdue’s appointees or to fill posts in his administration with Democrats. McCrory is only the third Republican to win the governor’s office since Reconstruction.
Foster and Reckhow were part of a three-person commissioners slate backed in last fall’s election by the People’s Alliance, one of Durham’s big-three political groups.
But Foster quickly broke with the other two members, joining forces with Page and Howerton to secure the chairmanship of the commissioners. Howerton took the vice chair’s slot, freezing Reckhow out of a leadership role on the county board for the first time since 1994.
Reckhow has been a county commissioner since 1988.