Crosscut published a piece by transit advocate Richard Borkowski last evening. In an unusual turn for Crosscut, he makes entirely practical arguments why a directly elected board not only doesn’t solve any actual problem, but in fact can make things worse. Money paragraphs:

However, there are lots of problems with this proposed cure. The districts would be huge (about 235,000 citizens in each one). Some fear that the elected directors would become like the Port of Seattle, a rubber-stamp arm of business and labor that leaves the public in the dark and draws little media or voter attention. A recent audit by the state’s auditor provided evidence of this fear with the Port of Seattle. The devastating audit was made more difficult by port employees who were uncooperative with the state auditor. The problems raised in the audit have led to an investigation by the FBI.

Sound Transit, on the other hand, has been audited on a regular basis over the 15 years of its existence. Each time, the results were a clean audit. Such an audit is a strong accountability measure that provides much clearer oversight than an election every six years, and it certainly doesn’t require a directly elected board of directors to achieve this accountability.

Good stuff.

7 Replies to “Crosscut vs. Governance Reform”

  1. I’m not sure I understand how your comment, or Rich’s article, make sense…

    The proposal may or may not be a good one, but of course it is a proposal to solve a problem!

    I haven’t heard folks suggest that a directly-elected board would solve our lack of funding, ridiculous tax structure, or cost overruns. Some voters are simply asking for a way to hold ST Board members directly accountable for their decisions and the vision that they lay out for the agency.

    Whether or not a directly-elected board, or appointed members like the directors of City Light or KC Election, would help improve that is an unknown… but it is certainly a fact that it is hard to hold politicians accountable for their performance on ST’s Board when voters are reluctant to throw them out of their day jobs.

  2. Michael,

    How is it a problem if ST is by all accounts a well-run agency? The point is to fix governance, but there’s no evidence that governance is a problem.

    Are you suggesting that all public positions should be directly elected to create “direct accountability?”

    Should I elect my beat cop? Social worker? My kid’s schoolteacher? After all, they’re not “directly” accountable to me if I happen to like some other things the mayor or school board are doing.

  3. First of all, Anonymous, Rich was most definitely not a monorail supporter. Quite the opposite, actually, which is how I know him.

    Martin, I’m not saying that directly-elected positions magically solve all problems. I’m simply pointing out how ridiculous the counter-argument from opponents is.

    I support governance reform because we have a leadership problem, not because I think a new board would automatically solve our funding problem.

    I think we should do only small steps first, however, to avoid even more delay on some of our projects. I think we should merge the three (plus Everett?) county bus agencies into Sound Transit.

  4. Michael,

    OK, you don’t like the general direction of Sound Transit. I find that perplexing, but OK.

    But why are you separating out transit as a function that should have this special accountability? Why not vote against Nickels (if you live in Seattle), who after all is the board chair? If I don’t like law enforcement in this city, I can either vote against the mayor or decide other things are more important.

    There are a few cases where specific responsibility is separately elected — school board and the Port of Seattle — and those aren’t encouraging examples.

  5. You’re right that there’s been some problems with how the School District and the Port are run, Martin.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see either of those run by the Mayor or the City Council. And I like that elections for school board revolve around questions of education and vision for the schools, and not other topics…

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