Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 8th, 2009 at 1:35 pm
[**See updates below**]
Multnomah County has admitted an error in their decision to temporarily suspend their Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee.
Yesterday, after seeing an email that was forwarded to committee members from Senior Transportation Planner Jane McFarland, I reported that the county had decided to not replace their bike/ped coordinator staff position and, as a result, would suspend the all-volunteer committee.
That decision surprised committee members and many in the community who were concerned that the county would be missing out on a very important part of how their transportation policy is made.
I spoke with County spokesperson Mike Pullen yesterday and shared these concerns with him. He assured me that the committee will remain in their plans. "There are plans to bring back the committee and to re-engage with them," he said, "but it's really related to the budget." Pullen said the county's budget is suffering from a drop in revenues and that the transportation program is in flux as a result.
When I asked him about the Multnomah County Code (3.378) that mandates the County to staff the committee, he said he was not aware of that and that he would look into the issue.
Today, I heard back from Pullen. He said that McFarland and her supervisors "weren't aware that a temporary suspension [of the committee] would require a Board resolution," and that "it turns out that to temporarily suspend the committee we do need to ask our Board to adopt that decision since they created the group."
Pullen said the Transportation Division will put a resolution on the County Board's agenda to temporarily suspend the bike/ped committee at their next meeting on April 16th* (see updated information below).
Interestingly, just as I got off the phone with Pullen, I noticed a comment on our story yesterday from County Commissioner Jeff Cogen:
"This decision was made by County staff and has not been approved by the County Board. In fact, the first I heard of it was on this site.
As a member of the County Board I want to emphasize that we have not changed our explicit support for Bicycle and Pedestrian transportation alternatives. I will fight any effort to cut that back. There is no reason for us to cut back on the citizen involvement that has led us to make such good decisions as the long overdue Bike-Ped improvements to the Morrison bridge."
Pullen emphasizes that the county has no plans to "abolish" the committee, rather, they are simply needing to "temporarily suspend" it until the budget picture clears up.
As for the decision to not hire re-hire a bike/ped specific transportation staffer, Pullen said that it was related to broader staff cuts and repeated that they are, "just trying to figure out what our transportation program will look like after July 1". In addition to the county's budget, Pullen said their plans also hinge on how the Governor's budget comes out.
Once those two budgets materialize, Pullen said, "Than we'll be more clear about how many people we'll have."
Can the committee continue without a staff person?, I asked. Does it have to be staffed by the bike/ped coordinator? "I think it needs to be staffed," Pullen said, "who staffs it is up for debate."
Pullen said the community has an opportunity to influence the county's budget and to let the county know that staffing and funds for bike and pedestrian planning should remain a priority. Pullen said the best contact to direct emails to is Karen Schilling at email@example.com.
Multnomah County has decided to not seek a County Board resolution that would suspend the committee. Senior Transportation Planner Jane McFarland just sent out an update on the situation. Here is the text of that email:
"I am pleased to inform you that through a partnership with the Office of Citizen Involvement, we will be able to continue staffing the Bicycle/Pedestrian CAC in the near term. Between now and September, we are able to provide staff support for three meetings. These meetings will occur in May, July and September on the regularly scheduled second Wednesday of the month at the Multnomah Building.
As I mentioned in my previous email, the declining transportation revenues have driven our decision not to fill this position in the short term. However by September, we will know more about the Governor’s Transportation package that could increase our revenues and allow us to fill the vacancy. If this does not occur, we will reassign planning staff to continue staffing the Bike and Pedestrian CAC.
Prior to the May 13 meeting, you will receive a notice and agenda for the meeting."
Multnomah County spokesperson Mike Pullen now says that the County will be coming up with an interim plan, "to see if we can avoid having to suspend the group's work and to keep this committee meeting regularly." (I'll have the full story soon).