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County Council Meeting, Februrary 1

County ponders move to control CARTA
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

We thought it might just have been the enthusiasm of new Council members. We also thought that their desire to more forcefully re-shape CARTA would succumb to the pressures of more seasoned members. Well, the Council did yield to the views of some of the longer standing members, but only to allow the Council Staff to more fully study the ramifications of what the Finance Committee proposed at its last meeting - that the County acquire full ownership and take over the running of CARTA.

The proposal at the Finance Committee meeting last week was supported by all of the new members as well as Council member Scott. It was not supported by Council members Fava and Bostic. The Council Chairman was not present at the Finance Committee meeting but he spoke against the move last night.

Staff to gather more information
Council member Scott proposed a motion that the staff be asked to study the ramifications of what had been proposed and to explore such things as financing and staffing. It was hoped that Staff could make known its findings by early in March to enable the Council to more fully discuss the acquisition.

The decision to defer debate was also prompted by a note to Council members by the President of CARTA. The note stated that CARTA was presently discussing financing with banks to enable the authority to continue operating up until July 1 when it expected to begin receiving the proceeds of the half-cent sales tax. Any change in the status of CARTA would threaten the outcome of these discussions, it stated. By implication, the operations of CARTA were also threatened.

The motion to ask the staff of Council to seek more information was unanimously approved by Council but it was clear that there would be much debate when the information is obtained. Chairman Stavrinakas was very clear in his opposition. He spoke of the need to involve the cities that were served by CARTA and who were represented on the Board. He also opined that they would not willingly give up their voice on the Board. A change of the management and ownership would be a disservice to citizens who were given no inkling of such a change when the voted for the half-cent sales tax last November, he said.

Council members express dissatisfaction with CARTA
There was virtually no debate on the issue as there was agreement that this would wait until the Staff obtained more information. But Council members Derby and Inabinett were able to express some dissatisfaction about the performance of CARTA. Councilmember Derby had a number of questions for CARTA relating to its performance and plans but he was restrained by the Chairman to wait for a fuller debate next month.

Both the Chairman and Executive Director of CARTA were present at the meeting. They were clearly unhappy about the issue before the Council. The Chairman addressed council and noted that there was a lot of misinformation being passed about CARTA. He offered to provide Council with whatever information it needed in its deliberations.

New council members looking for change
We are unsure as to what the conclusion will be on this debate over CARTA. The half-cent sales tax referendum passed conclusively, but even its proponents would confess that financing of CARTA was a more divisive issue than either green space or infrastructure. There are a lot of citizens who are very unhappy about the way the Authority is run. And amongst those people are the new Council members. They have indicated a willingness to exercise their power to bring change. They will listen to the more experienced members of Council. as is proper. But they have also indicated that they are not about to roll over for anybody. They want a better service for their constituents.

Were they swayed by the arguments of other council members, or intimidated by the warnings of the Executive Director, Howard Chapman, that CARTA will be threatened if they continue to talk of takeover? We don't think so. Arguably, the other cities that make up the ownership and board representation could have had a little more notice of what was coming up for discussion. But to suggest that these folk will no longer be represented on CARTA is to ignore the fact that voting on Council is now on a single member basis. Every part of the County has a representative on Council. Why shouldn't these Council members serve their constituents as well as the Cities do? And as for the warnings by the President of CARTA, some folk thought it was bluff.

A need to streamline operations
As Council member Douan said, part of the purpose of taking over CARTA is to streamline operations and to remove a level of management. He didn't go much further but almost certainly, CARTA employees would be moved to the County payroll. We would not expect pay and benefits to change. However, the ties with unions would probably be severed.

Party lines appeared irrelevant
It was refreshing to see that party lines made no difference to views in this issue. Council member Douan, a Republican initiated the motion to acquire CARTA in the Finance Committee meeting. The other new Council members, all of whom are Democrats, supported him. Deputy Chairman Scott who is Republican supported the motion but other Republicans spoke against it. County Council Chairman Stavrinakas who was the major critic of the proposal is a Democrat. Hopefully party lines will continue to be irrelevant in future debates.

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