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Posted on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

2 Washtenaw County reps appointed to Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority board

By Ryan J. Stanton

Richard Murphy and Elisabeth Gerber will serve as Washtenaw County's first representatives on a new 10-member Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority governing board.

County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, announced the two appointments late Monday afternoon following interviews with five finalists last week.

Murphy, a transit advocate who works with Smith as a programs director at the nonprofit Michigan Suburbs Alliance, will serve a one-year term through Dec. 31, 2013. He is a former Ypsilanti city planner and worked with Smith on the RTA policy.


Richard Murphy


Elisabeth Gerber

Gerber, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan's Ford School and former director of the school's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, will serve a three-year term through Dec. 31, 2015. Her research focuses on regionalism and transportation policy.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 387 of 2012 in December, creating an RTA for the city of Detroit and Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

The law gives each county two appointments, while the mayor of Detroit and the governor each get one.

With the help of an advisory committee, Smith acted quick to make his two appointments on behalf of Washtenaw County before his term as board chairman ends Dec. 31.

"I have the utmost confidence in these two individuals to help our region build a connected and integrated transportation network that will reestablish us as national leaders in this critical field," Smith wrote in a memo to follow county commissioners on Monday afternoon.

He called both appointees "passionate consensus-builders and clear-headed pragmatists," adding they can help the new board work through "the complex challenges that inevitably face individuals and agencies thrust together by force rather than choice."

Smith acknowledged some have expressed concerns about his relationship with Murphy and the potential conflict of interest it could represent. He said he struggled with that but ultimately decided Murphy has an unmatched skill set that is particularly useful in launching the RTA.

Smith said they've agreed to take two actions to help mitigate some of the discomfort. First, Murphy has agreed to an alteration of his employment arrangement at the Suburbs Alliance. The agency's board of directors will contract with him and remove him from Smith's line of authority. Smith is the executive director of the Suburbs Alliance.

Second, Murphy is being appointed to the one-year term, which gives a chance for an assessment of his independence and effectiveness before deciding if he should continue after 2013.

"Murph has a deep understanding of the region's transit issues — as a rider, a professional planner and hopeful visionary," Smith wrote in his memo. "He can help ensure that the system we build serves the broadest set of the population and is rooted in data and professional acumen."

Gerber brings to bear an unparalleled expertise in regional governance and Michigan's fiscal structures, Smith added.

"Her keen mind and inquisitive nature will keep us focused on a system that both serves our people and grows our economy," he said. "Together with the representatives appointed by the governor, Mayor Bing and my fellow county leaders, I trust that they will put us, at long last, on the path to a more connected, robust and useful public transportation system."

Perhaps more importantly, Smith said, both appointees bring with them a sincere compassion for those who are transit-dependent in the region.

"In an era when ability should be no barrier to a high quality of life, transit is essential to ensure access to the services, the benefits and the treasures of our diverse communities," he wrote. "The elevation of this regional transit system is therefore, at its heart, a humanitarian achievement — one that I hope brings us all closer together, as people in a common place with a shared future."

The RTA board will be responsible for a new regional transit plan, a planned rolling rapid transit system, hiring a CEO, deciding whether to put a millage or vehicle registration fee on the ballot in the four counties, and more. Ann Arbor officials have said they want Washtenaw County removed from the RTA because they don't think the county stands to benefit under the law that was approved.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

Our only hope is that the proposed increase of the vehicle licensing fee is defeated at the ballot box later this year by voters in each of the four involved counties.

AAPS Student

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

If these two Washtenaw County Reps can get Ann Arbor off the Michigan Regional Transit Authority Plan, that would be amazing. Hopefully now that they are on the board, they can fight to get Washtenaw County/Ann Arbor uninvolved with this mess.

Jeffersonian Liberal

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

That's just fantastic. A political hack appoints two cronies that have spent their entire career's feeding at the public trough. These people couldn't get a job in the private sector if their lives depended on it. These are the types that have nothing but theories to back decision that will waste millions of tax payer dollars. God forbid we appoint a couple of token Capitalist just to infuse some reality to this disaster in the making.

David Cahill

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

I appreciate Smith's statement that the RTA is supposed to be a "humanitarian achievement", focusing on those who have barriers to transportation. I support Ann Arbor's own AATA, as it is presently constituted, as a charitable organization, providing transit to those who, for whatever reason, can't drive. Let's hope that the RTA will stick to this mission, rather than frittering away its resources on grandiose projects.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

A big government person appointed two more big government people. Surprise, suprise. I think we can expect a tax hike shortly. If you read the SEMCOG report very few people will benefit from comuter rail to Detroit. But we all will have to pay for it.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

I keep wondering how Mr. Smith got re-elected.

Ypsi Eastsider

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 9:06 a.m.

Appointing an employee that works for Conan to a commission. Oh yeah, no conflict of interests there. Conan would have appointed himself if he thought he could get away with it. Where is L. Brooks Patterson when you need him to smack Conan around a bit more.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 6:53 a.m.

We can stand on the RR platform, just like the victims on the NYC subway platform . . . Hint: Don't wear yer turban!


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 4:51 a.m.

Two very reputable picks. "Murph" was a U-M graduate student while being one of the operators of the now-defunct Arbor Update, and brings a youthful perspective. Gerber, likewise , is a respected academic with a great degree of background in public policy.

Steve McKeen

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

Murphy brings a youthful perspective? Isn't he mid-30s? That's what we call "youthful" today?


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 6:59 a.m.

Love it that "Murph" took a whirl with "Arbor Update." And Gerber, she be a "respective academic." We need "Respective Academics" to tell us Dumb Car Drivers what to do. Giant Busses anyone?

Dog Guy

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 2:03 a.m.

"The Mandarin is usually the management consultant, not the chief executive--and they're the most disliked of the three groups. They tend to think they've earned their place in open competition ("meritocracy" is the Mandarins' name for their path), but outsiders think of them as privileged, conceited teacher's pets who are prone to concocting corrupt arrangements behind closed doors." NICHOLAS LEMANN in Time Magazine, Sunday, June 24, 2001


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:43 a.m.

Here's hoping these are short-lived appointments as a result of Washtenaw being removed from the RTA.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

The only opportunity that Ann Arbor will have of not participating in the RTA depends on the defeat of a new vehicle licensing fee by all four counties when a vote occurs later this year.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:43 a.m.

SEMTA has convinced thousands of riders over the years that it's really better to buy a car, thus stimulating the local economy


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 12:59 a.m.

"Murph has a deep understanding of the region's transit issues — as a rider, a professional planner and hopeful visionary. . ." Being a rider certainly invites understanding. I appreciate this in context of Mr. Murphy's other skills. A person of Ms. Gerber's credentials will be quite valuable in intelligent discussion of, and planning for regional transportation. Her foci of intergovernmental cooperation and regionalism are positive elements in this discussion. These attributes are essential to our collective future success, extending well beyond the topic of transportation. Thank you, again, Mr. Smith, for leading this process for our county. Many appreciate the formation of the new regional transportation entity that includes Ann Arbor.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

"Many appreciate the formation of the new regional transportation entity that includes Ann Arbor." What benefits do you imagine Ann Arbor to receive? You do not have much contact with Ann Arbor residents, do you?


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 12:26 a.m.

Anyone posting a comment is invited to disclose how many motor vehicles they have in their household. Your comment will be evaluated accordingly.

Jack Eaton

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Piney, Are you suggesting that we discount the opinions of AATA administrators who are provided a car or car allowance? Should we dismiss the views of AATA board members who live outside of the AATA service area and most certainly drive into town for AATA meetings? Should we disregard the input of bus drivers who must have cars because they report to work before buses run and work until after buses stop running? Ann Arbor has a long history of supporting mass transit, even though only about 8% of trips taken by city residents are made on transit buses. The funding for the new RTA will likely come from additional registration fees on personal vehicles. It seems that those being taxed for this entity should be allowed to express their opinions about the entity, the appointments to the RTA Board and the possible services to be provided by the RTA. Discount my comments to reflect the four cars my wife and I own.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:15 a.m.

...lest--heaven forbid!--people who *do* drive end up advocating on behalf of people who don't, who can't afford to, or who are seeking alternatives.