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D.C. Area Transit Agency Renews Chief's Contract

The vote was 5 to 1 to keep John B. Catoe Jr. as general manager.
The vote was 5 to 1 to keep John B. Catoe Jr. as general manager. (By Alfredo Duarte Pereira -- El Tiempo Latino)

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By Lena H. Sun and James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 25, 2009

Metro's board of directors approved renewing General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.'s contract for three years Thursday. But in an unforeseen move, D.C. City Administrator Neil Albert cast the lone dissent in the 5 to 1 vote.

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The board was widely expected to renew Catoe's contract, even as public frustration over Metrorail service has grown in the wake of the June 22 Red Line crash. The vote by Albert, who is the representative of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on the Metro board, appeared to surprise Catoe and other board members.

The board discussed Catoe's future in a closed executive session for more than an hour before voting in public during its regular session.

Albert left before the six-hour meeting ended. "The challenges that [Metro] has faced in the recent past demand more aggressive leadership," he said in a brief statement. "But the board has spoken."

Later, Albert said in an additional statement that although Metro has made "some progress in recent years, there is still more progress to be made." In addition, the statement said, the Fenty administration believes that "before a three-year contract was approved, the board should have used this opportunity to explore new, innovative options with regard to leadership." The statement did not elaborate.

Catoe will continue to receive a salary of $315,000 a year and a $60,000-a-year housing allowance. In addition, he will receive an annual $6,000 executive medical and wellness allowance for costs not covered by health insurance. When he retires, he will receive $27,000 a year from an annuity.

Catoe declined to accept a 3 percent annual salary increase last year when he was recommending layoffs at the agency. He has said he will not accept a salary increase through 2013.

The 62-year-old career transportation executive is facing the greatest test of his career. In addition to safety concerns raised by the Red Line crash, which killed eight passengers and the train operator, three other people working for Metro have been fatally injured on the job since June, and the agency faces a projected $144 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

After the meeting, Catoe said he did not know in advance how the board would vote. He said he would seek out Albert to "see what I need to do to meet that level or standard that would have allowed [Albert] to vote yes."

Board members declined to elaborate on the closed-door discussions. "I didn't know that anyone would vote no," said Maryland member Peter Benjamin, echoing the surprise of other members.

The mayor's office has clashed with Catoe over real estate issues, most prominently the Metro headquarters building near Verizon Center. Fenty has long wanted the District to have the ability to sell the Metro building. The city would use the proceeds to build a new headquarters for Metro at the Anacostia Metro station, which would spur economic development in Anacostia, a priority for the Fenty administration.

Catoe has said the city's proposal would not serve Metro's interest. Albert was formerly deputy mayor for economic development, and his appointment to the Metro board last October was seen as part of Fenty's push to persuade Metro to change its mind on the building deal.

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