WASHINGTON – Following a week of investigations into their leadership, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors approved the transition of the new board leadership during their meeting on June 27.
The Metro Board unanimously voted to approve Board Member Paul Smedberg, who represents Virginia, as the new chairman. Members accepted the recommendations of the elections committee for the chairman and second vice chairman made earlier that day.
To signify that Smedberg was the new chairman, Washington D.C. Councilmember and resigning Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), handed over the gavel used to start and adjourn board meetings.
“I think we’ve seen tremendous effort and advancement on capital projects, and also we need to continue keep(ing) an eye on ridership and do anything we can try to increase ridership,” Smedberg said after accepting the gavel.
More changes marked the transfer of leadership, a transition which carries more weight than just changing who calls board meeting to order. When Evans passed the gavel off, a WMATA staff employee removed his photo from a display wall that featured photos of other board members and Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld. On the WMATA website, both Evans’ and departing Maryland Metro Board Member Clarence Crawford’s names and biographies were removed. Smedberg was listed as chairman following the meeting, and Maryland Board Member Michael Goldman was listed as second vice chairman.
The committee voted to have alternate D.C. Board member Tom Bulger serve as an acting voting board member, taking the place that Evans vacated.
“I’d like to start by noting that we’re not nominating a first vice chair at this time,” committee chairman Crawford said during the elections committee meeting. “This important position will be reserved for (…) a District representative, and we would like to give the District the opportunity to appoint a member to the Board before we select this officer.”
The elections committee adopted the recommendation of leaving the first board vice president slot open for the future, to be appointed later by the D.C. Council.
The board voted to approve the committee’s officer recommendations and agreed that Bulger would serve as an acting principal director for the District. This means he could serve on a committee and contribute a vote during the decision-making process.
Bulger had not participated in board meetings since the end of the 2018 fiscal year, after which alternate board members were no longer allowed to serve on board committees. Legislation passed by the Maryland and Virginia legislatures dedicating funding for Metro also included language prohibiting non-voting board members from participating in board meetings. The exception is if the non-voting members are substituting for absent board members.
The District had also passed legislation reserving funding for Metro, which is known as dedicated funding. However, it did not limit alternate board members’ participation in board meetings.
Evans is leaving not only the position of chairman but also his role as a member of the Board of Directors representing the District of Columbia. His departure comes after an investigation into claims he violated the board’s code of ethics. The Ward 2 councilmember announced in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that June 27 would be his last day on the board but did not give a reason. After a May 23 board meeting, Evans said his decision not to seek reelection as chairman was separate from the ethics investigation.
However, Crawford, who represents Maryland and is the ethics committee chairman, wrote in a letter dated June 17 to the governors of Maryland and Virginia that Evans’ choice to not run again for chairman was part of an agreement following his ethics investigation. Committee members voted in closed session to approve a finding by outside counsel that Evans had violated the Metro Board’s Code of Ethics for not reporting a conflict of interest deal in which he received cash. Until Crawford sent his letter, the investigation had remained closed, and the committee shared no information with the public on its findings or outcome.
At a meeting on June 27, ethics committee members discussed their recommendations to change the way the board reviews allegations of the possible code of ethics violations by amending the code. Smedberg, Corbett Price and David Horner are fellow committee members.
“Our recent investigation into Mr. Evans’s conduct was a test to the current code, as written and adopted by the (then) WMATA Board of Directors in 2016,” wrote Smedberg, Horner and Crawford. “Through the course of the investigation, deliberations and reporting process, we identified several areas that should be amended to improve transparency, accountability, and fairness to all parties.”
Some of the suggestions included changing the size of the committee to an odd number – from four to five – and requiring the committee to give a non-privileged, written report of its findings to the full board during a public session. They also suggested that ethics matters require a board vote before they can be closed.
Price was present at the meeting but had not signed the letter in which the committee outlined recommended changes.
Crawford will not be on the board to see if the board adopts the suggestions. The meeting was his final meeting, as he is leaving the board at the end of the month, due to recently passed Maryland State legislation. Crawford will be replaced by Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn per the legislation. The legislation requires the secretary’s designee, who must be an employee of the Maryland Department of Transportation, to stand in when Rahn cannot participate as a board member.
A few ethics committee members shared a variety of opinions on how the Metro board and the external firm conducted the investigation.
Ethics Committee member David Horner said that he believes that it was not the best choice to have the committee investigate Evans.
“A transit agency is not the forum for adjudication of serious allegations of malfeasance,” Horner said.
Horner added that several changes need to be made into how the board conducts investigations.
“In the interim, the board needs to ensure that the code of ethics takes into account better than it does now (the) standard elements of due process, such as such as notice of proposed findings and opportunity for the subject investigation to be heard, standards of proof for rendering findings, (and) protocols for disclosure of information to the public,” Horner said after the meeting.
Horner confirmed that the external law firm’s findings were not put into writing and said he believes that “made deliberation difficult” for the committee members. He also said he believes that was the choice of Metro general counsel, and that the outside counsel did not disagree with it.
Evans did not respond to a question from a reporter as he was leaving the room, and he did not make himself available to the news media following the meeting.
Crawford said after the meeting that he believed the investigation went as intended.
The legislation followed widespread criticism of the board in state and congressional legislators circles. A report funded by Virginia listed a series of recommendations to improve the board’s operations, including shrinking the size of the board down from 16 to 12 members