Marauding - raiding, looting, pillaging, plundering;
On Friday, I walked into the MTC conference room at the Metro Center in San Francisco, and noticed something strikingly different from other times I’d been there. The room was filled with young adults of a wide variety of ethnicities, instead of the typical old, white, mostly male crowd I’m used to seeing. They were energetic and flashed bright smiles.
I was there to attend the 2020 Coro Fellows in Public Affairs presentation called The Logic Study. Coro CEO Laney Whitcanack greeted the audience and explained Coro’s mission to develop leadership skills to promote successful careers in public and government affairs.
Coro was founded in San Francisco in 1942 with a goal to teach skills to assure that our democratic system of government could effectively meet the needs of citizens. Today there are chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburg, and St. Louis. The San Francisco chapter has 11,000 alumi and 75 partners in government, labor, business, and the nonprofit sector.
CEO Whitcanack explained that today’s presentation was based on the Coro tradition to begin each year with a week-long dive into a city or agency to find out “What makes it tick?” This year focused on the San Francisco Bay Areas Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
The Logic Study includes interviews with staff, review of the MTC website and documents, including its budget. Eleven students, five men and six women, with degrees from prestigious schools such as UC-Berkeley, Notre Dame, Princeton, Boston College, University of Minnesota, and others, took turns describing a portion of the study.
In their hour-long presentation, they covered four topics: MTC’s history, how it works, why it works, and what can MTC do better. Their opening comment and final conclusion were the most telling.
Despite repeated efforts, not one of the fellows was able to find a mission statement for MTC.
They found an MTC purpose statement that said,
"To keep the Bay Area transportation network humming,
to forge consensus on strategic expansions, and to knit the regions 27 public
transit operators and 21,000 miles of roadway into a seamless network."
There were raised eyebrows among the audience that recognized MTC has missed the mark on fulfilling those purposes. Speakers talked about MTC’s various activities, but they could not find a mission statement for this vast and powerful regional organization.
Some pointed out that when an organization’s mission is clear, staff and the public can assess if the work it is doing is on target or whether “mission creep” is diverting valuable time and resources. Lack of a simple mission statement makes it impossible to tell if an agency is acting responsibly or with accountability.
During Q&A, Coro Fellows were asked if they’d learned about Assembly Bill 1487 authored by David Chiu. The newly proposed legislation would create a Bay Area Regional Housing Finance Agency, with a governance structure modeled on MTC. Coro fellows nodded knowingly, and referred to the proposal as an example of mission creep.
The Fellows summarized comments from the public who were asked at registration, “What do you hope are the MTC values?” The results were revealing.
The public hoped that MTC's top three values included, "Equity, accessibility, and transparency." But when MTC staff was asked, "What are the MTC values?" they prioritized "Regionalism, political change, and collaboration." The differences could not be more striking.
In the final slide of the day, the presenter concluded,
“The illogic of MTC is that as the organization shifted to meet the growing demands, its identity became less clear which resulted in an inability to make progress in a focused direction.”
I left the presentation with three questions.
- Does MTC intentionally avoid having a mission statement in order to perpetrate mission creep?
- Does the lack of a mission statement at MTC feed their seemingly insatiable appetite for money and power, thus explaining MTC’s move to link transportation dollars to housing construction?
- With the Coro conclusion that MTC has “an inability to make progress in a focused direction,” how do elected officials and the public get a handle on MTC’s marauding ambition for regionalism, which threatens quality of life and well-being for individuals, families, small towns and communities?
The Princeton Review describes the Coro Fellows Program like this,
“Every group has its ultimate challenge, an experience that defines those who participate as the most talented in their field. Track-and-field enthusiasts have the decathlon… Fitness freaks have the Iron Man Triathlon. And aspiring public servants have the Coro Fellows Program.”
MTC and the public will benefit from listening to and acting on the messages from this 72nd class of Coro Fellows.