Back row, L-R: Nate Nehring, Brian Sullivan, Sam Low; front row, L-R: Stephanie Wright, Terry Ryan. (Snohomish County Council)

Back row, L-R: Nate Nehring, Brian Sullivan, Sam Low; front row, L-R: Stephanie Wright, Terry Ryan. (Snohomish County Council)

County Council members air their Sound Transit grievances

Their frustration boiled over during a routine vote on a reappointment to the transit agency board.

EVERETT — Snohomish County Council members took turns laying into Sound Transit and the agency’s leaders when they voted Wednesday on what would normally be the routine reappointment of a local board member.

Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts was granted a third term on Sound Transit’s board of directors, but just barely.

“It’s with great sadness that I oppose this nomination,” County Councilman Brian Sullivan said. “I’ve known Paul Roberts for 30 years. I find him to be highly technical and a capable person.”

But, Sullivan went on to say, “I just don’t feel well served by his representation, or quite frankly, by any of the representation we’re now receiving on Sound Transit Board.”

Sullivan was joined by Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright in opposing the reappointment. Their three colleagues supported Roberts, though they, too, vented about the agency.

Their grievances include car-tab fee increases that took effect last year using a state-authorized table that overvalues used vehicles relative to the open market. Those fees were no secret when voters in Sound Transit’s three-county service area passed the ST3 ballot measure in 2016.

Now, state lawmakers are looking at ways to give car owners a break on tab renewals. Sullivan was galled by some proposed legislative changes that he said would affect unrelated areas, such as the county’s permitting oversight for light rail and the potential loss of some revenue for Snohomish County. While those concepts were discussed by state lawmakers, Sullivan said local Sound Transit board members should be keeping him better informed.

Another overriding concern was that Snohomish County has been short-changed for the benefit of Seattle and the Eastside. Everett isn’t due to get Link light-rail service until 2036, after new routes to West Seattle and Ballard that weren’t part of the original vision when the Regional Transit Authority came into being almost a quarter century ago.

For years, Roberts has been making that same argument — and promises to continue doing so.

“I have expressed frustration that Ballard and West Seattle appear to be moving ahead of Everett,” he said. “I’ve been really clear about that.”

Roberts and other local leaders pressed hard to move up the schedule for building light rail to Everett by five years in the ST3 plan. They threatened to withdraw support for the plan unless it also served the job-rich Paine Field area.

Roberts said Sound Transit needs to do a better job focusing on its priorities. He sees the top three as: completing the light-rail spine from Seattle to Everett and Tacoma; investing in areas with the highest ridership, rather than the ones that generate the most tax revenue; and connecting the region’s biggest job centers to the mass-transit network.

Sound Transit is facing another challenge from the federal government: the possible loss of more than $1 billion in grant money that it needs to build light rail to Lynnwood. That money appeared all but assured until President Donald Trump’s administration changed course.

All five County Council members said they would favor directly electing representatives to the Sound Transit board — an idea that never has gained traction despite support from some Olympia lawmakers.

“The fiasco on the car tabs and everything else that’s going on down there, it’s just a mess,” Councilman Terry Ryan said. “The problem appears to be that really no one is accountable. And the way to make everyone accountable is to have those board positions be elected.”

Roberts believes that would be a mistake. City and county elected officials already are attuned to land-use decisions that are relevant to transit, as well as to local transit agencies such as Everett Transit and Community Transit.

“The bills that are being drafted in Olympia would not have those connections,” he said. “You would actually be encouraging an uncoordinated system as opposed to a coordinated system. I think that gets lost if you have separate elected officials who aren’t connected to those decisions.”

Roberts is a local government policy expert with few equals. A former planning director for Everett and assistant city administrator in Marysville, he has served on the Sound Transit board since 2007.

Roberts is one of three board members who represent Snohomish County, along with County Executive Dave Somers and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling. They are nominated by the executive and confirmed by the County Council.

Snohomish County has the smallest stake on Sound Transit’s 18 member board, which also includes 10 officials from King County, four from Pierce County and the non-voting state transportation secretary.

Sullivan said he’s glad he aired his frustrations about Roberts and others.

“If anything, I hope it’s a wake-up call and that he visits us often and keep us well-informed,” he said. “I hope that would be true for the county executive and for Dave Earling as well.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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