Thoughts on the proposed MTA Board meeting changes

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In the midst of the rumors and speculation about the upcoming MTA fare increase scheduled for next year, MTA has now proposed reducing the number of Board meetings in 2013.  While PCAC has not taken a position, Executive Director Bill Henderson offers the following thoughts:

On Wednesday, September 19, the MTA’s Corporate Governance Committee recommended to the full MTA board a plan to reduce the number of MTA Board meetings from the present eleven to eight per year.  Currently, the MTA Board meets each month, with the exception of August, with a slate of committee meetings conducted in the days preceding each full Board meeting.  This change is recommended on the grounds that it would promote the “’ more efficient use of the time and resources of Board Members and staff.”

The PCAC is certainly in favor of increasing the efficiency of the MTA and its operating agencies; part of our statutory mission is to monitor the performance of the MTA’s operating agencies and to make recommendations to improve their efficiency.  We also believe that it is vitally important for MTA senior management and Board members to hear directly from the riders whom they serve on issues affecting the MTA and its agencies.  That is why, in the 1980’s, the PCAC successfully campaigned to include in MTA Board and committee meetings a public speaking session, so that at the beginning of each meeting members of the public are able to address the full Board or committee on items to be considered at that meeting.  It’s important that the public have this access to the Board, but these public speaking sessions are equally important as opportunities for Board members to hear from the riders.

The PCAC wants to ensure that the public always has the opportunity to communicate directly with the MTA Board and senior management, but we recognize that the present system has its limitations.  In addition to the change in the number of Board and Committee meetings, the plan recommended by  the Corporate Governance Committee includes provision for the MTA Chairman to hold a series of two “Chairman’s Forums” per year, at which the public could address and ask questions of a panel consisting of the Chairman and the MTA operating agency presidents.  This format would allow for public participation via a live webcast and the opportunity for the panel to respond to public comments and questions, which could improve the engagement of the MTA with the public.

The bottom line is whether these changes improve the accessibility of the MTA’s leaders to the system’s riders and other stakeholders, and the proof of this plan will undoubtedly lie in its implementation.  The PCAC stands ready to work with the MTA to ensure that these changes improve the MTA’s transparency and accountability.

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