Rail council to fight Malloy's effort
Governor's proposal would disband group
Published 2:00 pm, Thursday, March 21, 2013
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council members said they will lobby legislators and work to alter a proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to disband the legislatively appointed group and select members on a new group to represent the needs of railroad passengers.
Rodney Chabot, a New Canaan council member for 27 years and former chairman, said Malloy's proposal, left unchanged, could result in the elimination of all the group's existing members.
"The language of this bill suggests that everybody is out and we'll start from square one," Chabot said. "What would be the motivation to dump everyone off the council for political reasons."
At a Wednesday night council meeting, members formed a subcommittee to draft a counter proposal to Malloy's plan and raise awareness about the planned reorganization of the group put forward by Malloy as part of a bill to streamline or eliminate more than two dozen citizen advisory boards, many of them inactive.
Members were most critical of a change under Malloy's plan giving Malloy or another governor the authority to pick the group's new chairman, a choice previously made by a vote of council members.
"It takes away self-governance of the board and that is unacceptable," John Hartwell, a Westport council member.
Sue Prosi, a commuter council member and a planner for the South Western Regional Planning Agency, said giving the governor such appointment power might improve the council leader's ability to discuss rail service and customer satisfaction issues.
"I do see a possible advantage that way," Prosi said.
Mitch Fuchs, a Fairfield commuter who travels daily to Manhattan, said while other politicians appoint members of the group, allowing the governor to appoint the chairman might lead to a council less willing to challenge Metro-North Railroad and the state Department of Transportation on service problems.
"There's a risk that the chairman would control what would be discussed by the council," Fuchs said.
Hartwell and several other council members agreed that another part of the proposal -- eliminating language giving the council authority to request information from state boards and commissions about ongoing projects, the delivery of new rail cars, and everyday operational issues -- was less harmful.
Hartwell observed that the council has been able to be vocal and effective, even when requests for specific documents about the state's plan to redevelop the site of a rundown garage near the Stamford train station or to be visited by railroad engineers to explain problems have been denied, sometimes without explanation.
"I don't know if the elimination of that language is so important, because we already know there are situations where that is a battle we can't win," he said.
Hartwell also said other measures that would require the leaders of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee to select one member each from either the Danbury or Waterbury branch and another member from Shore line East was also superfluous because the council already works to put forward interested members who represent all areas of service.
"It's like saying to the chairmen of the transportation committee that we don't trust you to put forward somebody good," Hartwell said.
Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron, who will work on the subcommittee with Hartwell and Tim Beeble, another council member, said they need to work quickly to craft legislative language they preferred and inform legislators about the effect the governor's bill would have on the council's functioning.
The reorganization proposal's inclusion in a bill targeting inactive and moribund councils and groups with much narrower areas of interest seems inappropriate, said Jeff Maron, a Stamford commuter and council member.
"We don't meet any of the criteria put forward in the bill so I think we should work to get ourselves removed from it," he said. "We're very active and we've been doing what we're supposed to be doing."