TRAIN BOARD JUMPING TRACKS [Waterbury Republican-American]

March 20, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

Malloy would ax rail council for one he’ll control

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed eliminating the Metro-North Commuter Council and replacing it with a less powerful board over which he would wield more control.

Malloy has proposed a bill, “An Act Streamlining State Government and Increasing Effectiveness,” that would replace the council with a newly formed Connecticut Commuter Rail Council.

The legislation would change the way the council is organized and limit its independence, according to members of the current council.

“The new commuter council’s mandate would turn from investigation and advocacy on behalf of fellow commuters to PR adviser to the Connecticut Department of Transportation,” Jim Cameron, chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, wrote on his blog.

Under the proposal, the governor — not council members — would select the chairperson.

That would enable Malloy to set the council agenda, said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, the ranking Senate member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee. “It would be like the superintendent choosing his own board of education chairman,” Boucher said. “You would be more beholden to the superintendent than to the voters who elected you to be there.”

The Connecticut Commuter Rail Council would have 15 members, just like the Metro-North Commuter Council.

A bill proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would eliminate the Metro-North Commuter Council, which advocates for train riders like these at the Waterbury station on Tuesday afternoon, and replace it with a council that he essentially controls.

But current members aren’t interested in being on a board that has little power.

“It would be a novice group answerable to the governor and a chair hand-picked by the governor,” Cameron said. “I think they would be babes in the woods in terms of advocacy.”

According to the bill, the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council would “work with the Department of Transportation to advocate for customers of all commuter lines in the state and make recommendations for improvements to such lines.” Those recommendations would be reported to the DOT and Metro-North, among other agencies.

The council would lose most of its current powers, which include the ability to “study and investigate all aspects of the daily operation of the New Haven commuter railroad line, monitor its performance and recommend changes to improve the efficiency and the quality of service of the operation of such line.”

Cameron believes the governor’s proposal to “eviscerate” the council stems from his dislike of criticism.

“The only reason I can see why it would be replaced is that the people being criticized don’t like that criticism, and I’m sure those are the people who conspired to create this bill,” Cameron said.

THE METRO-NORTH COMMUTER Council has been an independent advocacy group, whose members are appointed by legislators, for 26 years. Its members don’t receive any pay and the council has no budget.

The council has lobbied for increased service on the Waterbury branch and in 2008 helped introduce an early- morning train that doubled ridership.

Recently, the council has criticized Malloy for pointing out that as a gubernatorial candidate, he promised never to use the Special Transportation Fund to balance the state’s budget, but did just that when he took office, Cameron wrote out on his blog, “Talking Transportation.”

The Metro-North Commuter Council is known for being hard-nosed, but it has never been political, said Drew Todd, a retired council member who lives in Norwalk.

“All the commuter council does is it wants better service on the rails,” Todd said.

He called the bill that would replace the council “nauseating” and an attempt by Malloy to silence a detractor.

“When you start criticizing people in power publicly and get their feathers ruffled, this is what happens,” Todd said.

A spokesman for Malloy referred questions to the DOT. Judd Everhart, a DOT spokesman, said the proposal won’t affect the commuter council’s ability to advocate for train riders.

“As long as qualified people can be found to serve on the council — and that has never been a problem in the past — we believe it doesn’t matter who appoints the members or the chair,” Everhart said.

He said the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council will have a broader mission than the current body. The bill requires the appointment of at least two members who are from municipalities served by a new railroad, such as the New Haven to Springfield, Mass. line that is currently being built.

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