A long-simmering dispute about the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s citizen advisory group boiled into the open on Thursday, with both sides laying out competing versions of events before the DVRPC Board.
Members of the Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC), which was originally founded to advocate restored rail service to Newtown, accused the leadership of the Regional Citizens Committee of attempting to stifle dissent and curtail debate on issues concerning rail expansion.
The group has since expanded its focus to other regional transportation issues and is a frequent critic of what it characterizes as wasteful spending by SEPTA. It also opposes expansion of the authority’s regional rail parking garages.
Member Paul Iverson told the board that the group’s attempts to “improve diversity” among RCC membership led to attacks “by leaders of the RCC” that have had a “chilling effect” on debate.
Here is a link to Paul Iverson's statement video.
The controversy began earlier this year, when RCC leadership took over the job of appointing members to the action task force, the body that makes recommendations on behalf of the RCC to the DVRPC Board on proposed board actions.
Previously, any RCC member in attendance at the group’s monthly meeting could vote on recommendations to the DVRPC Board.
In an interview, chairwoman Aissia Richardson said the change was meant to ensure greater regional and racial diversity on the committee — though PA-TEC members argue the move was meant to stifle their input.
PA-TEC also criticized the decision by the RCC to put its long range planning committee on hiatus. Richardson, however, said the committee had been focusing exclusively on rail expansion issues — as opposed to the DVRPC’s own long range plan — and had failed to provide the body agendas or minutes of meetings.
Things came to a head at the RCC’s May 17 meeting.
Though the two sides disagree on the cause, they do agree the meeting descended into name-calling and that the RCC failed to get through its scheduled agenda.
RCC member Thomas McHugh, who supports PA-TEC, told the board that a member of the RCC’s executive committee directed “profanity” and threatened “implied violence” toward a PA-TEC member.
DVRPC executive director Barry Seymour, who was at the meeting, said controversy erupted when PA-TEC member John Scott began videotaping proceedings.
He said the RCC took a straw poll and that “at least nine out of 10” objected to the videotaping. When Scott refused to stop, an argument ensued.
Frey recorded this meeting of the DVRPC Board.
Seymour also said PA-TEC descends into personal attacks on its website (http://pa-tec.org/) and that Iverson and McHugh’s descriptions of the meeting were “mischaracterizations.”
The group blocks access to the site from DVRPC computers, Seymour added.
Richardson told the board that PA-TEC had put up a picture of her on its website without her permission and declined to take it down, citing its right to free speech. She also said the group had misquoted her and sent inflammatory emails to RCC members calling the RCC a “dictatorship.”
Seymour said the DVRPC would begin discussions this month on how to “evolve” the RCC while still meeting federal requirements for public input on its decisions.
For his part, DVRPC Board chairman Joe Hoeffel, a Montgomery County commissioner, said “the board supports RCC changes” and urged both sides to continue a respectful dialogue.