Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett says he doesn’t agree with a Virginia law that seeks to limit input from Metro alternate board members.
Tom Bulger, an alternate Metro board member agrees with Leggett.
Virginia’s dedicated funding bill passed in the state legislature earlier this year prohibits alternate board members from giving input in committee meetings or participating in executive sessions.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s business oversight committee votes on the measure this week before passing it on to the Board of Directors.
Leggett said Virginia lawmakers should not reduce the role of alternate Metro Board of Directors members.
“It suggests they have no confidence – I want confidence in the Board and in its makeup,” Leggett said of Virginia’s bill, later adding, “I’m not sure what the motivation was for them.”
In the 2018 legislative sessions, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia legislatures passed bills to reserve tens of millions of dollars for Metro, so General Manager Paul Wiedefeld could sell debt on the funds. Wiedefeld, Board members, and lawmakers described that money as dedicated funding for Metro.
“There are broader issues that are out there,” Leggett said. “I’m not sure that this helps the conversation, in terms of getting people to work together.”
Though Maryland and D.C. also passed bills outlining their contributions to WMATA’s capital budget, the Virginia bill differed in that it called for alternate board members to stay out of committee meetings, unless they are standing in for a voting board member.
The Virginia law had included a condition – if, starting fiscal year 2019, alternate Board members participated in WMATA committee meetings and executive sessions while the voting board member from that jurisdiction was also present, Virginia would withhold 20 percent of the dedicated funding it committed to WMATA’s capital budget.
Leggett disagreed with Virginia’s threatening to lessen its dedicated funding for WMATA as punishment.
“This could be resolved without this sort of overkill we have here,” he said, later adding, “We should not use this as a means of scuttling a whole level of funding.”
The alternate directors are all members of the WMATA Board committees—some even chair the committees. If the Board on Thursday passes the bylaw amendments, that would change. Then, only principal Board members would comprise the committees.
Bulger, who represents D.C. and who would be excluded from committee meetings if the amendments to the bylaws pass, said he opposed the proposed changes.
“Who’s going to do all this work when you reduce the board to whatever number Virginia thinks is right? Who’s going to watch the steering wheel?” he asked, later adding, “I don’t know anyone who would do this for free.”
He said he spends about 25 hours per month on duties related to the WMATA board.
The requirement by Virginia legislators of alternate Board members not to participate in committee discussions or executive sessions came in the wake of a report commissioned by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and written by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. LaHood recommended the WMATA Board be replaced with a five-member reform board.
However, such a change would require amending the WMATA compact, a lengthy and complicated process.
Leggett, who read LaHood’s report, said reform of the Metro Board is less important than dedicated funding.
“I thought we were basically beyond that issue, so to go back to have to deal with this now is somewhat unsettling,” Leggett said, regarding Metro Board reform. “But again …we need to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize is to come up with dedicated funding.”
Bulger said loss of the non-voting members from committee discussions would cost the Board those alternate members’ special knowledge.
“Virginia operates on draining the brain, so people get dumb and dumber,” said Bulger.
He mentioned alternate Board members Bob Lauby, Malcolm Augustine, former Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter, and federal board member Anthony Costa, adding that they each contribute expertise from specific areas.
“The alternates have more expertise than you can imagine,” including economics, safety, pensions, and real estate, Bulger said. “Virginia wants to have a brain drain? Good luck!”
Principal Maryland Board member Mike Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said he believes Maryland and D.C. legislators were aware of Virginia’s interest in Board reform during the 2018 legislative session, but they were focused on dedicated funding.