SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Transportation commissioners need to re-evaulate leadership within the Missouri Department of Transportation and become more accountable to the public, Gov. Bob Holden said Friday.
Commissioners and department director Henry Hungerbeeler said they were unclear what the governor hoped to accomplish. The department has already trimmed $19 million from its budget and has hired an inspector general to look for waste and fraud, they said. It also makes a detailed annual report to the Legislature.
But Holden, in one of his strongest statements on the issue, said the resounding defeat by voters last month of a tax increase for the state's transportation system requires a new commitment from the transportation department.
'Vote of no confidence'
"The vote on Aug. 6 was, in part, a vote of no confidence in the department," Holden said at a meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in Springfield. "Today I am calling on you to take bold action and do what you must to restore trust in MoDOT."
The governor appoints members of the six-person commission, which is responsible for hiring the department director and chief counsel and approving state road construction projects.
Holden, in an uncommon personnel appearance before the commission, suggested the transportation department reduce administrative costs and reinvest savings into road projects, increase department efficiency, develop stronger accountability measures and ensure public confidence.
Holden, who did not outline exactly how his suggestions should be achieved, also encouraged the department to seek additional public ideas on transportation issues. The public will not support more taxes for the department until credibility is restored, he said.
After the meeting, commission chairman Ollie Gates of Kansas City said he wanted to meet privately with Holden to discuss his concerns.
"I don't know what bold action he is calling for," Gates said. "He showed by his actions that he was irritated by something or some statement or somebody. I don't know what it was."
Hungerbeeler, who joined the department three years ago, said he believed the department needed better communication with the public, not "house cleaning" within the department.
"Certainly I don't see that the staff that works for me is in any way responsible for the failure of Prop B, nor are they responsible for the many problems that exist in our transportation system," Hungerbeeler said Friday. "In fact, they are doing their very best to correct those problems."
Still in the back of many people's minds is the commission's reversal on a 15-year road-building plan adopted in 1992 along with a 6-cent motor fuel tax increase.
The commission abandoned the plan just six years later, saying it was underfunded by $1 billion annually. But the tax remains in place.
Proposition B, which appeared on the Aug. 6 ballot, proposed a one-half cent sales tax and 4 cent fuel tax increase. It failed by 72.5 percent of the vote.