Acting CEO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies gives toll road update

The Foothill/Eastern  Transportation Corridor Agency board of directors oversees the 133, 241 and 261 toll roads. File photo
The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency board of directors oversees the 133, 241 and 261 toll roads. File photo

By Andrea Papagianis

Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett drew sharp criticism last Tuesday from Councilman Bill Brough over her leadership role as chairwoman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency.

Brough criticized Bartlett’s partaking in a budget loophole that allowed certain contracts to be approved by the chief operating officer and chairperson outside the public eye.

He had asked for a TCA update in February after the Foothill/Eastern board, which Bartlett chairs, unanimously rescinded a provision granting the CEO authority to approve contracts, up to $25,000, for legislative support and strategy measures. Any extensions had to be approved by the chairperson.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies appointed chief engineer Michael Kraman as acting chief executive officer last week, following the exit of CEO Neil Peterson amid questions of the practice. The Foothill/Eastern and San Joaquin Hills agencies oversee Orange County’s toll systems, which include the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads.

Bartlett joined the board’s 14 other appointed members, who represent area cities and Orange County, in doing away with the practice she said was no longer needed.

When the provision was approved in 2008 the TCA was facing road blocks, in the form of both state and federal legislation, to prevent the expansion of the toll road system, Kraman told the council. The budget, including the procurement measure, was approved by a two-thirds vote ever since, Kraman noted.

Similar contractual authority is practiced by governing bodies nationwide and three CEOs and five chairpersons of the Foothill/Eastern agency had gone along with the provision, Kraman told the council.

Since 2013, the TCA’s boards have executed more than 480 contracts worth $76 million. Of those, Bartlett utilized the resolution five times, approving some $218,000 in contracts—or 0.28 percent of total procurements since January 2013, Kraman said.

Aside from the approvals being considered “standard operating procedure,” the practice was done away with to make board happenings more transparent, Bartlett said.

Brough criticized Bartlett for having Kraman present an update rather that giving one herself. He was also critical of Bartlett’s representation of Dana Point on the TCA board and called for her to be removed.

“It is kind of embarrassing when you read in the paper that the person you appointed to a board was stripped of a power by her colleagues,” Brough said. “There are major issues going on in the toll roads.”

Bartlett assured Brough that she was not stripped of a power and noted that she also voted to do away with the practice. Bartlett said the vote drew media coverage because it is “political season.”

Both Bartlett and Brough are running for higher office this year. Bartlett is seeking the 5th District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which Supervisor Pat Bates will term out of. Brough is running for the 73rd Assembly seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Diane Harkey.

Councilman Steven Weinberg praised Bartlett’s TCA work and said no removal was warranted. No removal action was taken.

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