The embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Wednesday severed ties with a former board member whose $180,000 job advising the authority’s CEO had become emblematic of what critics see as a culture where officials make their own rules.
The board, meeting for the first time in more than a month, has been under mounting pressure to clean up its affairs, and the announcement that former board member Mame Reiley would be departing was just one of several significant issues taken up.
Under a new travel policy approved Wednesday, directors will have to clear all board-related travel — a requirement intended to avoid embarrassing expenditures, like the $9,192.30 ticket board member Dennis Martire bought for a trip to Prague.
The board also began a discussion of a new ethics policy that would impose stricter financial disclosure rules and prohibit former board members from doing business with the authority for two years after they leave the authority.
But even as they vowed more accountability and transparency, authority officials refused to make available copies of the ethics proposals that were being discussed at the public meeting.
In his opening statement, Chairman Michael Curto said that the MWAA was moving forward.
“While it is true that the board has made its share of mistakes and there are a number of issues that have yet to be adequately addressed, I think our harshest critics would also acknowledge that we have made significant progress,” Curto said.
The MWAA, which operates Dulles International and Reagan National airports and the Dulles Toll Road, is building Metro’s $5.6 billion Silver Line, and the rail project has made the authority the subject of considerable scrutiny and criticism.
At the news conference, Jack Potter, president and chief executive of the MWAA, said the agency is “trying to earn [back] whatever trust we have lost.”
But it was clear from Wednesday’s meeting that the board is far from unified. The nearly five-hour meeting included several terse exchanges and laid bare some of the tensions that have been brewing among the board members for weeks.
The meeting was the board’s first since the MWAA was publicly chastised by the nation’s top transportation official, the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and mayor of the District, who demanded that the board undertake reforms.
As part of the effort to improve accountability at the authority, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appointed a federal monitor for the MWAA.
At the meeting Wednesday, some on the 13-member board were particularly angry about the decision to hire Reiley as a special assistant to Potter. Reiley, who said she was leaving the board for health reasons, assumed her new post a day later. Board members Shirley Robinson Hall and Warner Sessions, who represent the District, and Richard S. Carter, who represents Maryland, made it clear that they were not consulted about the decision to hire Reiley.
“She leaves on a Friday and goes to work on a Monday. Anybody looking at this would leave with the impression she was paid to leave the board,” Carter said.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has been taking steps to expand his influence on the MWAA board, including the recent push to oust Martire, a Democrat and labor official. Reiley is a prominent Democrat from Alexandria who was first appointed by former governor Mark R. Warner (D).
“I knew nothing about this matter until I read it in the paper,” Robinson Hall said. “It appears there is a shadow board operating here. Certain [members] know, and certain others don’t know.”
Later, she noted, the same people who approved Reiley’s hiring appeared in news reports criticizing the board for the move. Robinson Hall said she was troubled that the MWAA leadership did nothing to correct media reports that it was the board that approved Reiley’s hiring. At one point, she turned to Potter and said simply: “You threw us under the bus.”
“I take full responsibility for hiring Mame Reiley,” Potter said. “In hindsight, this was a lapse of judgment on my part.”
Potter said that Reiley’s last day at the authority will be Oct. 1. She will receive medical benefits and a year’s salary as part of her severance agreement.
The revamped travel policies, approved 11 to 1, come after members were criticized in an interim federal inspector general’s report for taking expensive trips to far-flung destinations, including Hawaii and Prague.
During the discussion, some board members raised concerns that requiring them to seek permission from the board chairman or vice chairman would hamper their ability to travel as freely as they deem necessary. Former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, the board’s vice chair, proposed that MWAA post quarterly reports of board member travel on its Web site, which officials pledged to do.