CA: SMART Board Rejects Many Marin Grand Jury Findings, But Says it Needs to Reflect

July 17--The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board on Wednesday rejected several assertions made in a Marin grand jury report, including the assertion that members are too hands off.

But some board members acknowledged that they should set a future meeting to discuss issues brought to the fore by the Marin, as well as the Sonoma grand juries, which also issued a critical report recently.

"Transparency and oversight should be looked at," said board member and Sonoma County Supervisor Shirley Zane at the agency's meeting Wednesday. "It's about the public perception of SMART."

San Rafael Mayor and board member Gary Phillips agreed, saying he was "concerned" about the criticism from the juries.

The Marin jury's April report called into question the 12-member board of directors, made up of representatives from Marin, Sonoma and the Golden Gate Bridge district. The 25-page report "SMART -- Down the Track" serves as a follow up to the jury's 2010 report on the project.

The report said the board members needed to become "more active" in representing the interests of the public.

"We found that some board members do not have an adequate understanding of the financial and system operating issues. Understanding these issues is crucial to the fulfillment of their responsibilities to establish policy and provide oversight to SMART," the report read. The Sonoma grand jury echoed that thought.

In its formal response to the Marin jury, the SMART board disagreed: "SMART board members, similar to other public boards, rely on their top managers and key experts to accomplish the policy goals set by the board and voted by the people."

SMART will issue a separate response to the Sonoma jury at a later date.

The grand jury also criticized SMART for not having a mechanism to get input from citizens on operations issues. But the agency disagreed saying input is gathered at its public meetings as well as at SMART's website.

The Marin jury report also stated many board members appear to rely too heavily on SMART's staff.

"While it is important that there be confidence and a good working relationship between board and staff, board members should be prepared to study the information provided to them, consult with more knowledgeable board members on that subject, and question anything they do not understand before making decisions," the report said.

At Wednesday meeting, transportation watchdog David Schonbrunn called the report a "cheap shot" pushed by SMART detractors.

"I see nothing that is out of the norm," he said. "There is no content there." Meanwhile, work in Marin continues on the $427.9 million project linking downtown San Rafael to the Sonoma airport.

Marin SMART stops will include downtown San Rafael, the Marin Civic Center and stations in Novato at Hamilton and Atherton Avenue. Most of the 17 miles of track in Sonoma has already gone in. There will also be 17 miles of track in Marin, with a planned addition of extension to Larkspur soon after service begins in 2016, officials said

Copyright 2014 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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