SORTA Board Member Thomas A. Luken lectures other board members about the "proper way to conduct the people's business" during a debate on fare increases in January. Board Chairman Benjamin Gettler listens in the background. (Photo by Michael E. Keating/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
Mayor-elect Mark Mallory
could have an opportunity to make an immediate mark on an issue he talked about often during the campaign -- mass transit.
Four of the nine seats on the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority are up for re-appointment. Two appointments belong to the mayor; two are to be made by the Board of Hamilton County Commissioners.
Board members serving until their successors are named are city appointees Thomas A. Luken
and Timothy Williams,
and county appointees Benjamin Gettler
and Melody Sawyer Richardson.
Mayor Charlie Luken
-- the son of Tom who appointed
the former mayor and congressman to the SORTA board as a "watchdog" three years ago -- said he deliberately decided to keep those appointments open for the next mayor.
"I know of Mayor-elect Mallory's interest in public transportation so he will have two appointments to the SORTA Board which should help him get 'his people' in key positions," Luken said in an e-mail.
Luken said he has no regrets about appointing his father -- a consistent dissenting vote on the nine-member transit board.
"My father has been a fierce advocate for those who rely on public transportation as a necessity. He has asked the tough questions, questions that need to be answered but often have not. The SORTA board needs a watchdog like my father."
Luken has certainly done that, to the irritation of his fellow board members. Take this exchange Tuesday, as the elder Luken made the case for stronger conflict-of-interest laws for transit boards.
LUKEN: We're good here at SORTA at stifling debate.
RICHARDSON: It's not a debate. It's a monologue. (Laughter.)
LUKEN: I spoke for three minutes. Was that too long?
SORTA Chairman Benjamin Gettler
has suggested to board members that he may retire if Luken does. The two battle axes have been fighting over mass transit policy for 40 years,
and former County Commissioner John S. Dowlin
brought him out of retirement to keep an eye on Luken after Luken was sent to keep an eye on SORTA.
SORTA General Manager Michael H. Setzer
told the Enquirer's
editorial board Thursday that he hopes the appointments will prompt a renewed debate about regional mass transit:
We don't know who Mark Mallory will appoint, and neither does he, probably. I doubt that's the top thing on his agenda. In the past, it didn't seem that the city appointments came with any marching orders from City Hall. My guess with Mark Mallory is that he'll have more of an agenda he'll send his people with. ... I hope the changes in local government cause those discussions to begin, and begin in a collaborative way -- not a confrontational way.
By that, Setzer said, he means that the debate shouldn't be exclusively about light rail. "Let's not fight about hardware," he said. "The mode discussion is still divisive at this point."
But other fundamental changes could be in the works for the mass transit agency. Councilman John Cranley
-- the political equivalent of a third-generation Luken -- has been quietly seeking support from constituency groups for a radical restructuring.
"Just because Cranley is Cranley, I assume he hasn't lost interest in SORTA," Setzer said.