ROCKVILLE – The Metro Board of Directors Ethics Committee’s investigation of the board chairman found that he violated the code of ethics and the Metro compact, possibly leading to his announcing his plans to resign.
The Board Ethics Committee’s Chairman Clarence Crawford, who represents Maryland, revealed in a letter to governors Larry Hogan and Ralph Northam on June 17 that the committee determined Board Chairman and D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) violated the board code of ethics. Crawford’s letter was a response to a letter Northam and Hogan had written to him that day.
The committee, through general counsel, “retained” the assistance of outside law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel to conduct the investigation, as required by the Ethics Code, Crawford wrote.
“I directed WMATA’s (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s) General Counsel to retain outside counsel to conduct an independent and impartial investigation,” wrote Crawford.
Crawford wrote that the law firm “found evidence of multiple violations of the Ethics Code and Compact by Mr. Evans.” Schulte Roth & Zabel told the committee it had found evidence of violations of the code of ethics and the compact in three instances – one with a parking company, another with an electronic sign company and a third with Evans’ 2018 business plan.
Until Crawford’s letter, details on the outcome of the investigation were kept under wraps from the public and other board members, including whether the committee found Evans had done something wrong. The reason the committee kept the investigation outcome private for so long is unclear.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, “the ethics committee was able to reach a simple majority with regard to one violation of the Ethics Code (Duty to Avoid Conflicts of Interest) related to Mr. Evans’ efforts regarding WMATA on behalf of Colonial Parking,” Crawford wrote.
At the time of the consulting agreement with Evans, Colonial Parking was “an ‘interested party” (…) as a party “seeking a contract or agreement with WMATA or otherwise has interests that can be directly affected by decisions or actions of WMATA,” the committee chairman wrote.
Evans wrote in a letter to District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on June 20 that he planned to resign from the Metro Board June 27, the end of his term as chairman.
“I want to thank you and the council for appointing me to serve on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Board of Directors for the past four-and-a-half years,” Evans wrote. “It has been an honor to serve on Metro’s Board of Directors as Chairman. I’m proud of the work the Board has done to lead the agency through some of the most challenging years in its history – the system is in a better position today to serve riders.”
U.S. Rep Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told news media on June 20 that he was urging Evans to resign, considering the investigation findings outlined by Crawford.
The short-term cause(s) of Evans’s decision to resign was not clear. Evans had said after the May 23 board meeting that he planned to remain on the board.
The board committee members were not the only people aware of the ethics probe’s outcome. An internal memorandum dated May 7 from Metro General Counsel Patricia Lee was leaked to news media the week of June 17, confirming that Evans had violated the code of ethics. He did so by failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
The ethics investigation lasted from March 11 to May 7, Lee wrote.
“Mr. Evans has agreed to amend his annual disclosure forms from 2016 to the present to list the consulting client relevant to the conflict of interest,” Lee wrote in the May 7 memorandum. “Mr. Evans has also agreed that he will not seek reelection as Chair of the WMATA Board.”
Until June 17, Crawford and Evans remained tight-lipped on the outcome of the ethics investigation. During the May 23 Metro board meeting, Evans announced he had no plans to seek reelection from board members, although he would remain on the board. When reporters asked Evans if he was not seeking reelection pertained to the ethics probe, he said, “No, not at all.”
After the May 23 meeting, Crawford confirmed the ethics investigation had ended, but when reporters pressed him for findings of the investigation, he said only that the investigation was “resolved.”
“We have concluded our investigation, and, as I said under our code of conduct, we have the ability to close the matter when it’s resolved, and that’s what we’ve done,” Crawford said.
It was confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported to Evans’s Georgetown home on June 20. Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Columbia and for the FBI refrained from commenting in detail about those reports.
“I can confirm that there was court-authorized law enforcement activity today at Mr. Evans’ home,” said Kadia Koroma, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Columbia.
“The FBI conducted court-authorized law enforcement activity this morning in the Georgetown area; we cannot provide further comment at this time or confirm the residents of the location,” wrote Melanie Lowry FBI Washington Field Office spokesperson, in an email.
Prior to Evans’s announcement about plans to resign, Montgomery and Prince George’s County representatives on the Washington Suburban Transit Commission wrote to the Metro board requesting the report by outside counsel on the investigation to be made public.
“It is the understanding of the commission that not only has the information (of) the investigation and its resultant findings been withheld from the public and the media, but also from the Authority’s (WMATA’s) Board of Directors,” wrote commission members, including voting board member Michael Goldman and alternate board member Kathryn Porter, both of whom represent Montgomery County.
Goldman said he believes not seeking reelection as chairman was too forgiving a punishment. Evans had told Goldman a year ago he did not intend to seek reelection, Goldman said.
Goldman also said he fears for the future of proposed Metro funding being considered by U.S. Congress, given the alleged code of ethics violation by Evans. Funding under the 10-year Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) in 2008, which gave millions of federal dollars to Metro’s capital budget annually, will terminate at the end of June, when the fiscal year finishes. Delegations in both chambers have introduced bills to extend federal funding for another 10 years.
“I think with the PRIIA legislation out there; it’s going to make it a lot tougher for the congressional delegation to move the PRIIA reauthorization letter through Congress expeditiously over the next couple (of) months between now and September,” Goldman said.
Concern has been expressed about the Metro board leadership in the U.S. Senate as well. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.), said he wants the board chairman to be held responsible for his actions.
“Metro’s first priority must be to serve the best interests of its customers, and Jack Evans should be held accountable for abusing his position to serve his own personal interests,” Van Hollen said on June 21.
As for the board perspective, Goldman also said he believes that Evans’s alleged violation has negative effects on Metro, including increasing tension among board members.
Phone calls to Evans were not returned before deadline. Ethics committee member Corbett Price, a voting D.C. board member, did not return phone calls requesting comment before deadline.
A Metro spokesperson said on June 21 that Crawford not available for a phone call.
“Unfortunately, he is out of the area and is unavailable,” the spokesperson said.