Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust on road to autonomy
By Risa Polansky
Miami-Dade County's Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust may have an opportunity to live up to its name.
Commissioners on Tuesday gave initial approval to measures that could make the watchdog body more autonomous, including one allowing trust members to hire an executive director.
The trust is charged with overseeing and reviewing transportation and transit projects tied to a half-cent surtax county voters approved in 2002.
The ordinance creating the trust stipulates that the county manager and county attorney shall provide "adequate staff and support services to enable the trust to carry out its duties and responsibilities."
This means that the trust's director, Nan Markowitz, now answers to staffers overseeing the very projects the watchdog body is supposed to monitor.
"It creates conflicts," trust Chair Miles Moss said. "Sometimes it's we, the trust, against them, the other departments — and Nan is part of them."
One ongoing issue trust members have had recently, he said, has been getting their hands on a budget planning for the creation and maintenance of existing and future transit projects.
Miami-Dade Transit faces a deficit — Director Harpal Kapoor expects a $20 million operating gap next year — and federal transit officials have questioned whether the county will be able to meet its share of financial obligations on a planned extension of the Metrorail system's Orange Line.
They withdrew funding from the project, citing concerns the county won't have the money to operate existing systems along with the new line.
"How much can we keep pushing (for a pro-forma budget) when people who are trying to protect transit are also supervising our staff?" Mr. Moss asked.
County commissioners are also demanding a pro forma. They this week deferred proposed transit fixes and asked for more detailed plans and scenarios before making any decisions.
The trust may have more success receiving the information it needs with an independent head staffer, Mr. Moss said.
He said the desire to hire a director does not mean members are displeased with Ms. Markowitz.
"We are all extremely satisfied with the executive director. She's had to walk a very, very fine line of telling us the truth and not getting her supervisor mad," he said.
Commissioners without discussion OK'd the director item as well as a measure allowing the trust to hire consultants without approval from the commission and an addition to the trust's definition deeming members "trustees" and officially noting that they "shall have a fiduciary duty to the residents of Miami-Dade County as to the reasonable use of the Charter County Transit System Surtax funds."
Some tried to initiate commission discussion on the items, not typically held during preliminary votes, but the idea was voted down.
The measures are to be heard by the county's transit committee July 9 and will require final commission approval.
While final passage would be a major step forward for the trust, it's not the answer to the county's transit woes, Mr. Moss stressed.
"It would not solve the problem that the county's facing with money."