Supervisor David Campos will find himself front and center this month in a multiple-front struggle to answer an age-old conundrum: Why doesn’t Muni work better and how can we fix it?
Campos has inserted himself into the debate by leading the charge on a charter amendment to change how the MTA Board is appointed. He has also requested an audit of the MTA’s management practices. Results should be ready in time to inform the supervisors’ vote in May on the MTA’s budget for the next two years.
On the unplanned side, Campos will be leading the confirmation process for two MTA Board members this month. He’s the chair of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, the first stop for Mayor Newsom’s MTA Board nominations before they reach the full Board of Supervisors.
There’s uncertainty on all three fronts at the moment. Details of the audit and the charter amendment measure are still being hammered out, and Mayor Newsom hasn’t said whom he’ll appoint to fill two MTA Board seats that will open on March 1.
After a press event for the Central Subway yesterday, the Mayor said he’s still figuring out his appointments to many of the city’s commissions, including the MTA. "I have about 45 appointments that we’ll be making in the next few weeks," he said.
With any shot at broader reforms still half a year away, Campos said the Board of Supervisors will be making the most of its confirmation power over mayoral appointees to the MTA Board. "If we put a measure on the ballot, it wouldn’t go on the ballot until November," he said. "In the meantime, we want to make sure that, within the current governing structure, Muni is in the best hands possible."
Like many of his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, Campos said the keyword for directors is independence.
"What I look for is someone who is truly independent of not just the Mayor but also the Board, and who’s going to ask the right questions, who’s going to be engaged, who understands what it’s like to ride Muni, who is responsive to the needs of the ridership, who holds Muni accountable. That kind of independence, in my humble opinion, has not been demonstrated by some members of this MTA Board."
Audit Could Shape Budget Decisions and Charter Amendment Measure
Despite a tight timeline, Campos is adamant that the audit will help inform both the supervisors’ MTA budget decisions in early May and the charter amendment proposal. The picture is already looking grim, with deficits of about $50 million for each of the next two fiscal years
"It would really address a larger question that is in the minds of everyone who rides Muni: Is Muni being run properly? It would look at basic best practices around management. It’s not just mid-level management or upper-level management, it’s management, period."
That could include any level of management, from Executive Director Nat Ford to line supervisors, Campos said. In addition to making sure operations are run in a way that makes sense, the audit will look at how the MTA spends its money, and will almost certainly look at work orders from other city departments.
On the governance side, Campos’ charter amendment proposal would include splitting appointments to the MTA Board between the Mayor and the supervisors, something Supervisor John Avalos had proposed last year. The Mayor currently appoints all seven Board members, who are confirmed by a majority vote of the supervisors.
"I think there has to be some form of a split appointment between the Mayor and the Board," said Campos. "Then we need to look at other things to consider. There are some agencies, like the Department of Elections commission, that are appointed by other city officials. There are a number of possibilities. So, I don’t want to say that we’re looking at one over the other."
Campos has ruled out the prospect of having a voter-elected MTA Board member.
"I think that makes it a political fight that is predicated on who runs the most effective campaign," he said. "Money could be a big part of that. We ultimately want something that’s going to provide accountability and transparency for the ridership."
In addition to studying the city’s other commissions, Campos said he would draw on the results of the audit in shaping his governance reform proposal. "Any time you look a management audit, you look at the oversight that’s provided – or not provided, for that matter."
Initial reports on the ballot measure focused on the call for split MTA Board appointments, but Campos said the measure would include structural reforms as well. "By that I mean rules that govern the day-to-day structure and the operations of Muni in such a way that they’re counterproductive," he said.
"I don’t know that simply changing the governance structure will get you to the result you want, which is having the most effective public transportation system in the country. I think the governance structure is part of it, but not the only thing."
Once again, the results of the audit could play a key role in shaping that proposal. The city’s transit advocates no doubt will wish to have a voice as well. Campos said he’s listening. "I don’t want it to be something that just comes out of the Board of Supervisors. I think it has to be a grassroots effort."