The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Board voted Thursday to dismantle the Regional Citizens Committee (http://planphilly.com/topic/2593) (RCC), an advisory group, and replace it with a new Public Participation Task Force.
The RCC was been embroiled in controversy the past several months, as an advocacy group called the Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC) (http://pa-tec.org/), which is critical of both DVRPC and SEPTA, used it as a forum to question regional transportation priorities.
Tensions between RCC leadership and PA-TEC erupted (http://planphilly.com/transit-advocates-blast-dvrpc-public-comment-process) at a May DVRPC Board meeting, when PA-TEC accused the DVRPC of trying to shut it out of the planning process and DVRPC and RCC management said that the group was trying to hijack the committee.
DVRPC leaders said at that meeting that they were looking at changing the structure of the RCC, which was established more than 30 years ago, in response to the conflict, which has also spilled over to the courts. PA-TEC has appealed (http://planphilly.com/update-dvrpc-says-its-not-covered-right-know-law) a number of administrative decisions on open records requests the group made of DVRPC to Commonwealth Court. And in a filing in one of those cases, DVRPC has asked the court to rule that it's not covered under Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law.
Federal regulations require that metropolitan planning organizations like DVPRC take public comment into account when making their decisions but give them wide latitude in determining how to solicit that input. The DVRPC has already begun accepting public comments on board agenda items online as part of a larger effort to increase citizen outreach opportunities.
The new task force will be composed of 19 to 23 members, with one member chosen by the board to represent each of the nine counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey served by the DVRPC. The remaining 10 to 14 members would be selected through an application process that would aim to ensure ethnic, cultural and geographic diversity, spokeswoman Candace Snyder told the board before its vote.
Members would serve staggered two-year terms, and four members would serve on the DVRPC's Regional Transportation Committee, which issues recommendations to the board about proposed transportation projects.
The RCC was composed of anyone who attended a certain number of monthly meetings — though earlier this year the RCC created an appointed action task force that was in charge of making recommendations to the DVRPC Board about proposed transportation spending decisions, a duty previously carried out by the entire group.
No other regional planning organization has a citizens committee that is self-selecting like the RCC, Snyder said.
“The current structure … is no longer productive or inclusive,” Snyder said, adding that the task force would meet later in the afternoon or evening to allow for ordinary citizens to take part. RCC meetings were held during the work day.
RCC leadership supported the change, with chairwoman Aissia Richardson saying that “these past few months have been a challenge” but calling the task force “the next best step” in citizen engagement moving forward.
And vice chairman Jim Richardson, who is unrelated, said that the move “addresses a number of important shortcomings.”
Snyder hopes to get the new task force up and running in the next six months.
In response to this move, PA-TEC is “exploring the possibility” of establishing its own “regional citizen input committee” that would weigh in on transportation issues, leader Jon Frey wrote in an email, adding that he is currently searching for a venue to hold an initial meeting.