H.R. Crawford says friends, relatives worked at MWAA

November 14, 2012

H.R. Crawford, a long-serving member of the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, acknowledged Wednesday that at least three of his relatives as well as a friend work or have worked at the authority.

In brief remarks during the board’s regular meeting, Crawford said he was the board member whom federal officials were referring to in a recent report that said an MWAA director had personal connections to employees at the authority.

Wednesday’s meeting, held at Dulles International Airport, was the first public gathering of the MWAA board since a federal inspector general’s audit detailed widespread problems with the airports authority’s contracting, ethics and personnel practices.

Citing instances of nepotism at the authority, the inspector general’s office wrote that “ . . . one board member had at least two grandchildren working at MWAA. The same Board member also insisted that MWAA hire an immediate family member of his close friend.” The report did not name the board member.

Crawford acknowledged Wednesday that two of his granddaughters and a daughter-in-law worked at the authority. The daughter-in-law was employed for nine months, several years ago, he said. One granddaughter was part of the student intern program — a job he maintains she got on her own. Another granddaughter is now employed at the authority.

In another case, he said, he suggested to someone at the authority that the grandmother of a friend be considered for a job at the MWAA.

“I did ask . . . to do something for this lady — yes , I did that . . . but no one was pressured to hire her,” he said. Crawford did not identify the woman and was uncertain whether she still worked at the authority. MWAA officials said they were not certain who the woman was or what her employment status is.

Crawford said that he did nothing wrong — and that if given the opportunity, he would do the same thing.

He said connecting people with jobs and people at the authority was “standard operating procedure” when he joined MWAA in 2002. A former D.C. Council member, Crawford was appointed by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Crawford’s term on the board ends in January.

“It was an acceptable practice,” he said. “If that’s a crime, then I think a whole lot of us in our room better check ourselves.”

The inspector general concluded that MWAA’s policies governing board member conduct lacked specific prohibitions against nepotism.

“MWAA could not ensure that relatives and friends of board members did not receive preferential treatment in hiring or contracting as we found in one case,” it said.

Crawford said that with the adoption of new ethics and travel policies, MWAA is obviously changing.

That point was reiterated Wednesday by Michael Curto, the board’s chairman, and Jack Potter, MWAA’s president and chief executive, who said officials were moving quickly to address the myriad issues raised in the inspector general’s report and in other critiques.

“We believe that the actions we have taken and the ones we plan to take are a good step forward,” Potter said. “When this process is complete, I am confident the airport authority will be a better organization.”

The board also voted Wednesday to raise fees on the Dulles Toll Road.

Starting Jan. 1, drivers will pay 25 cents more at the main toll plaza and at on/off ramps, for a total of $2.75. In 2014, the rates will rise to $3.50. But the board put off approving an increase in 2015, in hopes of securing alternative sources of funding.

“Certainly raising tolls is not a popular matter,” said Rusty Conner, chairman of the board’s finance committee. But he pledged a “full-court press” to find ways to keep the rates as low as possible.

The toll increases, which have been expected, are needed in part to fund construction of the Dulles Rail extension, the 23-mile project to extend Metro from Falls Church to Tysons Corner, Dulles airport and Loudoun County.

Currently, drivers pay $1.50 at the main toll plaza and 75 cents at on/off ramps for a total of $2.25. The new rates will take effect Jan. 1 of each year.

Board members also welcomed a new member, Elaine McConnell, a former Fairfax County supervisor. She replaces Dennis Martire, a labor official who stepped down from the board last month, after a confidential settlement was reached in a dispute with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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