Group recommends ethics changes for Metro board


An independent investigation found that Jim Graham acted improperly when he tried to influence plans to develop a Metro-owned parcel of land. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)
November 15, 2012

Metro’s revised ethics policy for board members lacks specific sanctions for many violations, an expert review has found.

A director who violates rules regarding a financial conflict of interest can be forced off the board, but the ethics policy is silent on consequences for other ethical transgressions, according to the review, carried out by the the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Cadwalader conducted the recent investigation into former Metro board member Jim Graham (D), concluding that he violated Metro’s ethics rules and improperly mixed his roles on the Metro board and the D.C. Council, where he represents Ward 1 .

The firm’s recommendations were discussed Thursday at a meeting of the transit agency’s governance committee and will be considered by the full board in February.

In addition to recommending clearer consequences, the review urged Metro to add rules prohibiting nepotism and vote trading, to expand disclosures of potential conflicts of interest and to set up an independent ethics committee to review alleged misconduct by board members.

Some board members expressed uncertainty about revisiting the ethics code just 14 months after it was revised to address conflict-of-interest concerns. Others said it was important to resolve these issues before the board has to deal with another problem.

“What we need to do is focus on the fact that we potentially have a hole in our procedures that we need to fill,” board member Mary Hynes said during the discussion.

Board member Mort Downey said the ethics code should be improved but said the board should tread carefully when it comes to prescribing sanctions.

“I think that may be something that’s beyond our control,” he said. “It is something that the legislative bodies may want to take a look at.”

The law firm’s recommendations also extended into governance issues, such as the number of board members, the frequency of board meetings and whether elected officials should be allowed on the Metro board.

Downey said that while the review offers useful insight on the ethics code, he, like other members, was concerned about recommendations regarding governance. “These were all debated two years ago,” he said. “We agreed two years ago not to touch those issues. And I think that is still a good position.”

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