Regional planning body revamping citizen input

A new citizens' advisory group is in the works for the region's transportation planning and funding agency.

After internal squabbles prompted the disbanding of its former advisory panel last year, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission on Thursday voted to issue its new plan for public comment.

The DVRPC board is to vote on the "public participation plan" at its April 26 meeting.

Instead of accepting all interested citizens, the Public Participation Task Force is to have some members appointed by member counties and cities, and others selected by the agency'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.

Applications to join the advisory panel will be available on the DVRPC's website (www.dvrpc.org) starting Wednesday.

The previous panel, the Regional Citizens Committee, had become sharply divided over which projects to support and even how to function.

Recent and longtime members clashed with each other and with DVRPC staff about the panel's goals and its independence.

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.

The DVRPC staff urged the commission to create a new advisory panel that would be more diverse and would follow DVRPC direction on topics to be considered.

Several of the former members of the Regional Citizens Committee complained to the commission Thursday that the new panel would simply be a rubber stamp for DVRPC actions.

Larry Menkes of Warminster, who was on the committee for four years, said, "As we started making recommendations that weren't rubber stamps, we were increasingly vilified.

"The [committee] was fine - they just didn't like what we had to say."

He said the panel was advocating more action on climate change, alternative energy, and increased funding for mass transit.

The commission's board members on Thursday approved, without dissent, the issuance of the new public participation plan.

The plan is to be released Monday for a 45-day comment period. It is to be available on the DVRPC website.

 


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