D.C. area airports authority set to vote on chief executive

March 15, 2011

With the governing body of the Washington region’s two main airports scheduled to name a new chief executive Wednesday, the board member charged with running the search has resigned, leaving the outcome of the vote uncertain.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority already was deeply divided on the leading candidate to oversee Reagan National and Dulles International airports because of questions about his personal financial troubles and the process the board used to narrow the list of contenders for the job.

Nathaniel P. Ford Jr., chief of San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency, has split the 13-member regional board in a debate that has included allegations by at least one board member that those opposed to the African American man are racist.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) moved quickly this week to name a replacement for board member Jack Garson, who formally resigned last week. Garson, a Bethesda lawyer, had been leading the search, which began more than seven months ago. Richard “Dickie” S. Carter, a businessman from Potomac, was sworn in Tuesday afternoon, allowing him to participate in Wednesday’s meeting.

“It’s a big job and it’s important that there be leadership in place, and not on an interim basis, when these types of decisions are being made,” said Shaun Adamec, O’Malley’s spokesman.

The two board members from Maryland, said a source familiar with their plans, are expected to press the airports authority on Wednesday to delay the vote by at least 30 days to allow for a cooling-off period, and to discuss the possibility of starting the search process from scratch.

In his resignation letter, Garson said his “family and professional commitments necessitate this decision.”

Garson did not return messages seeking comment on Tuesday. But sources familiar with his thinking said he had expressed reservations about Ford’s background and advice the board received from its executive search firm. Some board members have blamed Ford for not volunteering that he owes back taxes, while others said the search firm should have flagged that earlier in the process.

The D.C. Council on Tuesday signed off on two new board members, who were appointed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Shirley Robinson Hall and Warner H. Session, both District residents, will replace Mamadi Diane — who had attended one meeting since his term expired in 2009 — and Leonard Manning.

Board Chairman Charles D. Snelling, a federal appointee, and his colleagues have told The Washington Post that the selection process was intended to be confidential. According to sources close to the search, Ford’s front-runner status came after a preliminary closed-door vote, with seven in favor and six opposed.

Supporters included Diane, who gave his proxy to fellow D.C. member H.R. Crawford because he was stuck in the Ivory Coast because of political unrest following recent elections. The final decision requires board members to vote in person, so the new D.C. appointments will ensure that the District has three voting members.

The board has informally offered Ford a compensation package that includes a salary of at least $375,000, according to sources, but a formal job offer requires a vote by the board.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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