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USDOT move leaves open spot on influential Oregon Transportation Commission

Posted by on February 1st, 2021 at 1:11 pm

OTC members left to right: Chair Robert Van Brocklin, Vice Chair Alando Simpson, Julie Brown, Sharon Smith.

There’s an opening on the five-member body that oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Former City of Portland staffer Maurice Henderson starts his new job with the Biden Administration today after officially resigning his seat on the Oregon Transportation Commission on Friday (1/29).

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The vacancy will put a spotlight on Oregon Governor Brown, who leads the appointment process for all OTC commissioners. Brown will face intense lobbying from transportation, environmental, and social justice advocacy groups who understand the OTC’s vital role in making sure ODOT’s makes the right moves to curb emissions and build a fair, sustainable, and humane mobility system. Sources say a coalition of groups will be reaching out to Brown’s office to pressure her on the decision and to open up the appointment process to the public.

In the meantime, let’s review the how the commissioner selection process currently goes. To learn more I reached out Assistant Director of Government and External Relations for ODOT, Lindsay Baker.

Here’s what she said:

Per Oregon statute, appointments to the OTC are made by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

— Governor Brown submits her executive appointments to the Secretary of the Senate (this happens I believe 21 days before the committee formally considers the list via/during committee meeting)

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— Senate Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments considers the list of executive appointments (for first-time appointments (not reappointments)) the candidates are typically asked to appear before the committee (I expect this time will be virtual)

— Senate Committee recommends appointments move forward to a vote of full Senate

— Typically the full Senate votes within a few days of the committee recommendation; this session it’ll depend on when next floor is scheduled since it’s less frequently at the beginning of session than in sessions past.

As we think about who the next OTC commissioner might be, keep in mind that geographic equity matters and at least one member must live east of the Cascade Range (Henderson lived in Bend/central Oregon). And no more than three members can belong to the same political party. (Learn more about each current commissioner on the OTC bio page.)

Given what’s at stake, we’ll be watching this appointment closely. It’s also worth noting that current Chair Robert Van Brocklin’s term is up this year (at the end of June). He could run again, but if he doesn’t we’ll dust off this post and watch that appointment closely too.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 2/2: A letter (below) has been sent to Governor Brown from 31 community organizations and leaders (below) calling for a more transparent selection process and a choice that reflects urgency and understanding around key issues like induced demand, climate change, equity, investment in non-driving options, and so on.
020221 - Letter to Governor Brown re OTC Appointment

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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David HampstenFredJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)EdGranpa Recent comment authors
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David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Looking at the geographic distribution of the remaining members, I’d expect the new appointment to be from Eugene or Salem, or maybe the coast.

Fred
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Fred

There must be someone in Eugene or Salem, or on the coast, who commutes to work by bike and can represent that perspective.

Ed
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Ed

In theory, the OTC wields quite a bit of power. In reality, the OTC mostly rubber stamps whatever ODOT staff put in front of them. Until that dynamic changes, the appointments rarely matter.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

After reading their Dec 1st meeting minutes, I’m inclined to agree that they are a rubber-stamp organization with zero authority, and are hand-picked to reflect that reality. On the other hand, most boards, committees, commissions and authorities are equally powerless, be they local, regional, state, or federal, unless they are directly elected by the people, have independent taxing authority, and serve independent from any other government.

If the OTC was an independent elected authority who controlled gas tax rates and how they were spent, you can bet they would be constantly scrutinized.

Granpa
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Granpa

OTC and ODOT leadership are in a nice cozy tub washing each other’s backs. Profoundly loud public advocacy or activist legislators are needed to change the dynamic