in Houston, Texas
Problems with transparency, perception of conflicts of interest at North Texas Tollway Authority: Report
Thursday, Oct 20, 2011, 05:30PM CST
By Steve Miller
tollway

An assessment of the North Texas Tollway Authority has found the taxpayer-funded operation needs to be more transparent and has issues with “governance and operational practices that cause frustration, poor morale, and distrust."

The appearance of conflicts of interest at the agency have created "public and internal distrust," and the agency should develop a conflict-of-interest policy, the report commissioned by area county judges says. "Some board members have family or business ties that involve NTTA consultants or right-of-way transactions."


The review found the agency has failed in a number of instances to take action, even as the frequency of board meetings has more than doubled in the past two years. For example, it took seven months for the board to approve a change in administrative fees that are tacked onto fines for failure to pay a toll.


The authority also relied heavily on consultants rather than its employee base for most endeavors, although two areas were exclusively handled by tollway employees: business diversity and audits.


The review notes that a policy for use of consultants, which would broaden the use of in-house employees, was proposed in April by then-Executive Director Allen Clemson but never adopted by the board. Clemson was the fifth executive director in five years.


The revolving door that is the NTTA’s executive director's office may be the result of a number of policy flaws, including the fact that there were no formal goals for the director nor was there any evaluation period other than an annual review, the report says.


The evaluation of the agency was commissioned by the county judges in Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Collin counties. Those judges also select board members for the tollway authority.


The review was conducted by New York-based Alvarez & Marsalthe same firm that oversaw the dismantling of Lehman Brothers in 2009 and was called on to assist the scandal-ridden HealthSouth in 2004.

 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which has been covering the tollway authority doggedly, has a story on the firm's findings here.

 

***

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


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Photo 'Tollway @ 635' by flickr user jczart, used via a Creative Commons license.

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