DVRPC disbands Regional Citizens Committee

Posted: November 17, 2011

After more than a year of infighting, a citizens advisory group has been disbanded by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

A new citizens group will be established early next year, with some members appointed by the member counties and others selected by the planning commission's staff.

The DVRPC is a federally mandated organization that coordinates regional transportation planning and funding in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer Counties.

New and old members of the agency's Regional Citizens Committee had become sharply divided over which projects to support and even how to function.

Jon Frey, an information-technology consultant from Southampton who has been an advocate for restoring commuter rail service to Newtown, was a leader of the newcomers. They argued strenuously for the Newtown rail line and against a parking garage at SEPTA's Jenkintown station.

Longtime members of the panel, including its chair and vice chair, accused the newcomers of disrupting meetings and hijacking the committee to push their own agenda.

"We need to move forward in a more inclusive way . . . we need to do away with the self-selecting process for citizen participation," Candace Snyder, director of DVRPC public affairs and staff coordinator of the citizens committee, told the agency's Regional Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The DVRPC board voted last month to replace the citizens committee with a public participation task force of about 25 members.

"The current tenor of the RCC has truly become unproductive," Snyder said in a memo to DVRPC executive director Barry Seymour before the board vote. "We as a staff are not wary of conflict and do at times expect it. But . . . the current RCC is not adding value to our organization."

The new panel will be more diverse geographically, ethnically, and culturally, Snyder said.

Each county will appoint one member, with the others selected by DVRPC staff from residents who apply, Snyder said. She said instructions for applying would be posted on the DVRPC website (www.dvrpc.org) by mid-January.

Members will be chosen for two-year terms, and their first meeting could be held by April, after "citizen planner training" in March, she said.

"I can see that this will become a political thing," said Carol Ann Thomas, Burlington County's principal transportation planner, who chairs the Regional Transportation Committee.

Aissia Richardson, who chaired the now-defunct citizens committee, urged the counties to use an application process "to avoid politicization."

Frey criticized the creation of the panel as a way for DVRPC to control the public's involvement, saying the new task force "further confirms that public input is being filtered and guided by DVRPC."


Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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