Smithey will continue to serve on the Trans-Texas Corridor "Advisory Committee"
Dallas County: Member's election loss means he's no longer eligible
May 26, 2006
By HERB BOOTH
The Dallas Morning News
The mayors of a few southwest Dallas County cities are meeting this morning to decide who should replace Grady Smithey on the powerful Regional Transportation Council after his narrow defeat in the Duncanville City Council race.
The transportation council is a conduit for state and federal highway funding for government entities in 16 North Texas counties.
Mr. Smithey – who had served on the RTC for more than a decade – lost to Deborah Hodge by three votes in the May 13 District 4 contest. RTC bylaws say that the person who represents the cities in southwest Dallas County – Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Lancaster and Glenn Heights – must be an elected official.
Lancaster council member Carol Strain-Burk and Duncanville council member Dorothy Burton have expressed interest in the position.
Ms. Strain-Burk said she thinks transportation affects everything in communities, including economic development and quality-of-life issues, like the environment.
"I would put my record up against anyone," said Ms. Strain-Burk, who added that she has hosted a few conferences and meetings concerning transportation and "green" development in the southern sector. "I feel I have the leadership qualities to be effective."
Ms. Burton said the mayors have a difficult decision to make and that she will support their choice.
"I believe it would be inappropriate and premature at this point for me to make any comments," Ms. Burton said.
Three of the mayors wouldn't say whom they might prefer for the spot. But Lancaster Mayor Joe Tillotson said he would push hard for Ms. Strain-Burk.
"She wants to serve and has indicated she has the time to put in. She's highly interested in transportation," Mr. Tillotson said. "I'm going to plug her. We will have to get a hard worker to replace Grady because anyone we appoint will pale in significance as an influential member of the council – at least immediately."
All the mayors agree that it will be difficult to replace Mr. Smithey and the wealth of institutional knowledge he carried about highway funding.
A passionate advocate for transportation projects in southern Dallas County, Mr. Smithey regularly quoted statistics to rail against inequities of transportation spending in the region. The mayors also say that Mr. Smithey's replacement will face a steep learning curve in trying to master the voluminous material needed to represent the region at the negotiations table.
Mr. Smithey said he wouldn't presume to tell the mayors who should follow him, but he said his longevity and work has produced results for southern Dallas County.
"With all due respect, no one has worked on transportation as hard as I have," Mr. Smithey said. "Truth be told, that's the biggest loss for the citizens of Duncanville and this area. Anything TxDOT recommends for this urban area, RTC has to sign off on it."
Mr. Smithey won't completely abdicate his transportation stature. He will continue to serve as a Dallas County appointee to the Dallas Regional Mobility Commission and the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee, in which he is a gubernatorial appointee.
Those who worked on the RTC with Mr. Smithey praised his abilities.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Texas Council of Governments, said Mr. Smithey brought three characteristics to the table that made him a good RTC member: intellectual capacity to understand the issues, passion in what he believed in and a strong work ethic.
"In the 20-something years I've been working here, he's in the top five," Mr. Morris said. "As a staff member, that's all you can ask for."
The southwest mayors agreed that Mr. Smithey's experience and influence would be tough to replace, but some said the longtime RTC member sometimes brushed people the wrong way, too.
"We have to find out who will be willing to go to the mat for the region's needs," DeSoto Mayor Michael Hurtt said. He added that Mr. Smithey has been influential, but "Grady has created some hurdles because he's been so straightforward for so long," he said. "At times, this has been a stumbling block, too."
Collin County Judge Ron Harris, who sometimes played Mr. Smithey's adversary on the RTC and the Dallas Regional Mobility Commission, said his Duncanville colleague is a formidable opponent.
"He was passionate. We've had our disagreements. We've had fun," Mr. Harris said.
So much fun that a couple of weeks ago Mr. Harris adjourned a Dallas Regional Mobility Commission meeting when Mr. Smithey offered a lengthy discussion while debating a committee appointment process.
"Look, we had already been there for an hour," Mr. Harris said. "Bottom line is, I think he brought credibility to the table for his area. He's been a good representative for south Dallas County."
© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co